There was substantial agricultural development in the Darwin area without sustained government investment
Between 2002-03 and 2014-15 turnover in the agricultural sector increased by over $100 million from $129 million to $231 million (Figure 1). This growth created over 200 new jobs, and supported a total of nearly 600 full-time-equivalent (FTE) roles by 2014-15 (BLADE). During this growth period the number of operating businesses declined (BLADE), suggesting some consolidation to achieve economies of scale but more likely the growth of a small number of businesses while a larger number left the industry or ceased to operate.
Figure 1 Change in turnover, Full Time Equivalents (FTE) and number of businesses in the Darwin study area between 2002-03 and 2014-15 (BLADE)
In the Darwin study area (Jobs and Growth case study), the beef cattle sector contributed just 12-18% of agriculture turnover during the study period (BLADE), despite it being the dominant agricultural industry across the Northern Territory with 44% of total sector production value in 2015-16 (DPIR 2016). In contrast, horticulture contributed 31% of the Northern Territory sector production value in 2015-16 (DPIR 2016) but in the Darwin study area (Jobs and Growth case study) it was 29-40% (BLADE), principally mangoes and melons (ABS 2017b).
While all agricultural industries showed turnover growth during the study period, a range of sectors were making a substantial contribution to agriculture by 2014-15 (Figure 2). In 2002-03 fishing, hunting and trapping, and aquaculture generated $34 million which was 27% of all agriculture turnover and around double the turnover from both cattle farming and all other pastoral farming. By 2014-15, the market share from fishing, hunting and trapping, and aquaculture had dropped to 19% and there was just a $7 million difference between all other pastoral farming, cattle farming, and fishing, hunting and trapping, and aquaculture (BLADE).
Figure 2 Change in turnover, Full Time Equivalents (FTE) and number of businesses in the Darwin study area between 2002-03 and 2014-15 (BLADE)
The bulk of the growth in Horticulture was driven by the category of “Mushroom and Vegetable Growing” (BLADE), which is likely to be largely melons and Asian vegetables (ABS 2017b), in which turnover increased from around $15 million to over $30 million annually (Figure 3) (BLADE).
Figure 3 Change in turnover of different horticulture industry classifications in the Darwin study area between 2002-03 and 2014-15 (BLADE)
Historically there have been some institutional impediments to intensified agricultural development in the Northern Territory, especially regarding the limits to non-pastoral activities that can be performed on pastoral leasehold land. This is one area in which the Northern Territory government has recently invested considerable attention, and following changes to the Northern Territory Pastoral Land Act 1992 (the Act), (Northern Territory Government 2018) which came in force in September 2018, subleases can be granted for a range of non-pastoral purposes and there is stronger appetite for the issuing of diversification permits for a range of development types. While there are still restrictions on the use of pastoral land for more intensified development, the changes to the Act were designed to foster the intensification of agriculture and related industries in the Northern Territory.