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NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment
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A growing and diversified agricultural sector

The New England North West is one of the strongest economies in regional NSW. It boasts highly productive agricultural industries due to superior soils, high land capability, good rainfall and a temperate climate. Productive agricultural land covers around 67 per cent of the region, making it one of the top agricultural producing regions in NSW, generating around $2.5 billion in 2011.5


The growth of the broadacre agriculture and grazing sectors, and the expansion of intensive agriculture and food processing will continue to drive economic prosperity and jobs growth.


Agricultural industries have seized opportunities to increase productivity and production levels through research and development and by diversifying production. Broadacre agriculture and grazing are well established industries and leaders in agricultural production. Future priorities for these industries include research and development and improvements in freight networks.


The intensive agriculture and food processing sectors are rapidly expanding.6 The poultry industry in particular has significantly grown around Tamworth. These sectors provide opportunities to diversify the agricultural economy and promote value-adding opportunities. They can capitalise on the region’s grain and feed production, freight networks and proximity and access to significant national and international markets.


Competition between land uses in rural areas can affect the continued productivity of agricultural land. The draft Plan protects existing agricultural land from uses that compromise long term agricultural productivity and maximises opportunities for co-existence with non-agricultural uses.


The NSW Government has developed the Right to Farm Policy, which presents a comprehensive approach to dealing with the right of farmers to undertake lawful agricultural practices without conflict or interference arising from complaints from neighbours and other land uses.


Agricultural industries rely on efficient freight networks and benefit from access to domestic and international markets due to the proximity of the ports of Newcastle, Brisbane and Sydney and the three international airports. The Newell and New England highways and the rail line to Newcastle and Sydney provide bulk shipping and high capacity freight networks that are capable of maintaining high levels of productivity and the competitiveness of the region’s agricultural industries. Potential new opportunities exist with the introduction of overseas freight capacity at Toowoomba, Queensland.


The draft Plan:

  • promotes the growth of broadacre agriculture and grazing by improving the efficiency of freight networks and applying appropriate controls to support these industries
  • promotes opportunities to expand intensive agriculture and food processing by identifying emerging development opportunities and streamlining approval processes
  • protects agricultural land by limiting land fragmentation and development on important agricultural land; and
  • protects the future development of freight and logistics precincts and identifies opportunities to provide greater access for high productivity vehicles.


The New England North West’s three largest agribusiness sectors are cotton, broadacre grains and livestock grazing. Together, they represent around three-quarters of the region’s total agricultural production. These sectors benefit from the strong local presence of supporting agribusinesses covering bulk handling, marketing, export and processing.


International trade agreements will provide enormous potential for growth; however, farming communities may also face significant challenges. With farm consolidation and capital investment in labour-saving technologies there has been a shift in the type of jobs available. There are now fewer jobs for lower skilled farm labourers. This is reflected in a decline in the number of people employed in agriculture since 1996.7 These trends are likely to continue and ongoing innovation in agricultural practices, as well as the creation of new markets to Asia, will be necessary to meet the challenges of climate change, water availability, variable soil conditions and agronomic factors.


The region has some of the largest agricultural research and development institutions in NSW, with major facilities at Tamworth, Armidale, Narrabri and Glen Innes. These facilities provide research and development aimed at innovation in farming practices and the adoption of new technologies that help to sustain production and productivity, open new market opportunities and maintain a competitive edge in the face of economic and climatic challenges.


The application of research findings can contribute to the region’s current production levels, despite the risks posed by reductions in water availability and increasing soil and plant evaporation.


Councils will need to consider the encroachment of potential urban and rural residential uses onto regionally important agricultural land. They will also need to provide an adequate supply of land and flexible planning controls to enable a range of development opportunities for broadacre agriculture and livestock industries, including research institutions and applied research and development jobs.

Key agricultural sectors8


The North West district is Australia’s most productive cotton producing area, generating around 30 per cent of the nation’s cotton crop and the highest average cotton yields in Australia. Cotton is the highest value agricultural commodity in the region, with a gross value of around $800 million in 2011.

Broadacre Grains

Wheat, sorghum and barley, together with legumes, are the region’s primary broadacre grain industries. The amount of land being used to grow wheat has increased over the last 20 years from 300,000 hectares in 1992 to over 500,000 hectares in 2013.


Sorghum production accounts for around 80 per cent of the nation’s total production. Sorghum is mainly used in livestock feedlots, but there are emerging export opportunities for food-grade sorghum.


Beef and Sheep Grazing

The livestock industry is the third largest agricultural sector in the region and generates over $508 million. Major livestock facilities are located in Tamworth, Gwydir, Inverell and Glen Innes.



Poultry is an emerging key industry in the region and generates over $130 million. The majority of production is in Tamworth.


Action 1.1.1 Implement the Government’s Agriculture Industry Action Plan

The Department of Primary Industries Agriculture Industry Action Plan-Primed for growth: Investing locally and connecting globally (2014) provides a roadmap of actions and strategies for industry and government to work together to drive growth in the NSW agricultural sector. The region’s agricultural industries will be considered under the Action Plan. Ten-year plans will be developed for individual agricultural industries to grow the sector and guide government. They are likely to canvass issues such as research and development, innovative and improved freight solutions and the efficient management of water resources.

  • Develop industry-specific action plans to grow the region’s cotton, broadacre grains and grazing sectors.


Expanding intensive agriculture and food processing sectors will help grow agribusiness and promote local job opportunities. Agribusiness includes food and fibre production, farming, seed supply, agrichemicals, farm machinery, wholesale and distribution, freight, logistics, processing, marketing and retail sales.


Easy access to wheat and other broadacre crops grown on the highly productive soils around Moree, Narrabri, Gunnedah and Liverpool Plains will support the livestock and intensive agricultural sectors on the slopes and tablelands around Tamworth, Inverell, Gwydir and Glen Innes. 


The poultry industry has grown considerably in recent years. Between 1996 and 2011, the gross value of poultry meat industry grew by 17 per cent. The industry is firmly concentrated in Tamworth which generates 89 per cent of production in the whole region. It is a key local employer and has greater potential for local jobs in the future. 


Certain land uses such as residential development can be sensitive to dust, noise, and odour. Councils should minimise the potential for future land use conflict around intensive agricultural activities to assist their long term viability. The Department of Primary Industries provides guidelines for intensive agriculture. 

Intensive Agriculture in the New England North West9

Tamworth has a number of food processing facilities, including abattoirs, poultry processing plants and a large wheat mill. Narrabri has the largest oilseed crushing plant in Australia and the only cottonseed crushing plant operating in NSW. Inverell is the operating centre for a large beef processing company. There are four large cattle feedlots (20,000 plus head) operating in the Liverpool Plains, Gwydir and Glen Innes Severn Local Government Areas.


In 2011, the poultry meat industry in the region accounted for 19 per cent of the State’s gross value of poultry meat and was worth around $131 million. The poultry industry represented 5 per cent of the gross agricultural value in the region. The number of birds grown for meat has increased from around 1 million in 1996 to 5 million in 2013. In 2011, the then Guyra Shire produced 56 per cent of the gross value of the State’s tomato production.

Value of intensive agriculture in the New England North West (1996 - 2011)

A graph displaying the value of intensive agriculture in the New England North West between 1996 - 2011.

Action 1.2.1 Prepare and implement a Regional Intensive Agribusiness Strategy to support new opportunities for intensive agricultural and food processing agribusinesses

The Regional Intensive Agribusiness Strategy will identify locations with potential for intensive agricultural development. This will leverage economies of scale and infrastructure benefits by developing clusters of complementary activities. There are opportunities to co-locate industries to use the by-products and waste materials to create new products and services. Providing a sufficient supply of land in appropriate locations will help to facilitate employment opportunities and infrastructure and services.


The strategy will also include Intensive Agricultural and Food Processing Guidelines to minimise the effects of development and assist the local government approval process. It may include the design and layout of intensive agricultural and food processing developments. Strategies to facilitate the growth of agribusiness will also support the strength of the region’s agricultural productivity and contribute to the diversification of the region’s economy.

  • Work with councils to prepare a New England North West Regional Intensive Agribusiness Strategy that includes:
    • Intensive Agriculture and Food Processing Guidelines; and
    • mapping of suitable future precincts for intensive agricultural production and food processing.

The New England North West has some of the State’s most fertile and productive agricultural areas, with very high class soil and land capability (see the map below). Limiting the subdivision of agricultural land will maintain viable and productive farming activity.


Land and soil capability in the New England North West

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map of the land and soil capability in the New England North West


The map below shows rural landholding sizes for the region in 2015. Monitoring landholding size changes over time will identify emerging trends in agriculture, the pattern of rural subdivision and the degree of fragmentation or consolidation of rural lands. This will help councils to review and update minimum lot sizes in their local environment plans.


Protecting rural uses from encroachment by sensitive land uses can often be avoided by applying buffers using distance, vegetation or topography.


Fruit and vegetable crops are common on smaller holdings throughout the region. Identifying suitable areas for smaller agricultural holdings will help to minimise the occurrence of incompatible land uses and prevent fragmentation of land. Councils should investigate ways to provide development opportunities for this type of agriculture.


The encroachment of urban uses into agricultural areas can increase biosecurity risks from pests, diseases and invasive species. Risks are increasing due to the globalisation of trade, population growth, climate variability and competing priorities for land and resources, including land use conflicts.10


Land use planning can support the effective management of biosecurity risks, particularly where the expansion of residential development into rural areas or the expansion of rural or resource industries increases risk. New industries should be located where the potential for conflict with agriculture can be minimised.


Travelling Stock Reserves are parcels of Crown Land reserved under legislation to provide pasture for travelling or grazing stock. These reserves can be beneficial in times of drought, bushfire or flood. They are also used for public recreation, apiary sites and conservation. Local Land Services manage the land to strike a balance between the needs of travelling stock and the conservation of native species. Many travelling stock routes have high biodiversity and Aboriginal cultural heritage values.


The Department of Primary Industries has developed the Biosecurity Strategy 2013–2021 to better manage biosecurity risks. It includes the following actions:

  • review existing NSW legislation, taking into consideration legislation in other jurisdictions; and
  • support the development of best‑practice guidelines that outline the roles and responsibilities of stakeholders in biosecurity management.


Biophysical strategic agricultural land

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New England North West biophysical strategic agricultural land map


Action 1.3.1 Identify and protect important agricultural lands

Biophysical Strategic Agricultural Land is high quality agricultural land based on characteristics such as soil fertility, access to water and land capability. It is naturally capable of sustaining high levels of productivity and requires minimal management to maintain its quality.


Biophysical Strategic Agricultural Land was mapped in the region in 2012 (see the map below). It covers over 1.5 million hectares or around 15 per cent of the New England North West.


There is an opportunity to complement the existing Biophysical Strategic Agricultural Land mapping with additional regional-scale mapping that reflects regional climatic and geographic conditions, as well as regional industry needs.


Important agricultural land will be mapped to guide government when making planning decisions, preparing local plans and investing in infrastructure. The maps can be used to identify areas with potential for land use conflicts, such as the expansion of rural residential uses. The mapping will provide industry with information on the existing agricultural production in the region. It will also identify land that is suitable for future investment for agricultural production and associated activities, such as value-adding/ processing, and farm stay accommodation.


The NSW Government will develop guidelines for councils about planning for urban or rural residential development on important agricultural land, including mapped Biophysical Strategic Agricultural Land. These guidelines will also assist councils to identify issues they need to consider when preparing local strategies or planning controls.

  • Develop maps that identify important agricultural land.
  • Limit urban and rural residential development on important agricultural land, including mapped Biophysical Strategic Agricultural Land unless it is in a strategy that is:
    • agreed between council and the Department of Planning and Environment; and
    • consistent with the guidelines for councils on regionally important agricultural land.


Landholding size analysis (2015)

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New England North West landholding size analysis map

Action 1.3.2 Limit fragmentation of agricultural land and minimise incompatible land uses on or near agricultural land

Protecting agricultural land has historically been achieved by limiting rural land subdivision. Councils should try to retain existing large rural landholdings to maximise production efficiencies and the viability of agricultural sectors. Applying provisions that limit the development of dwellings that are not a primary residence or associated with agriculture will also avoid potential conflicts with agricultural activities. Before approving secondary dwellings or detached dual occupancies in rural areas, councils should consider the possible land use conflicts and the impacts on local agricultural activities.


Councils can identify certain agricultural areas for inclusion in the primary production small lot zone. Local environmental plans can also be used to support these industries, with provisions such as farm boundary adjustments, subdivisions to create a primary production lot without a dwelling and rural worker dwelling controls. The provisions should offer flexibility and opportunity, but prevent fragmentation.


  • Monitor annual changes in landholding sizes for each local government area.
  • Apply appropriate minimum subdivision standards in rural zones
  • Apply appropriate local planning provisions for rural dwellings to avoid potential conflicts with agricultural activities
  • Develop local planning provisions to avoid and manage conflicts between land uses to help councils assess applications in rural areas.
  • Where necessary, conduct land use risk assessments in accordance with the Department of Primary Industries Land Use Conflict Risk Assessment Guidelines (2011).
  • Consider appropriate locations and apply minimum lot sizes for areas with a capacity to support existing and emerging intensive small-lot primary production.


Action 1.3.3 Increase the region’s biosecurity through the use of buffers and land use conflict risk assessment

Biosecurity issues can occur at the interface between urban and rural areas, which increases the risk of animal and plant pests and diseases affecting food production, the environment (particularly wildlife) and human health. Development near freshwater catchments is also important to protect natural waterways from pest fish, such as Tilapia.


The risks to biosecurity can be minimised through the application of buffers to separate different land uses. This can be done by distance, the use of vegetation or topography.


The NSW Government’s commitment to strengthen and maintain biosecurity measures across NSW is reflected across a number of documents including the NSW Biosecurity Strategy 2013-2021, the NSW Weeds Action Program 2015-2020 and the Draft NSW Invasive Species Plan 2015- 2022. Local Land Services will continue to play a key role in this issue, in collaboration with other organisations such as the NSW Department of Primary Industries.

  • Consider opportunities to minimise biosecurity risks for current and future industries through biosecurity plans, and strategic planning (including a review of zones in local plans).
  • Promote the application of buffer areas to minimise biosecurity risks when assessing the potential impacts of new development.


Action 1.3.4 Manage and protect travelling stock reserves for their economic, environmental and social values

Local Land Services are developing a NSW travelling stock reserve state planning framework that will guide how they manage travelling stock reserves with multiple values. Councils will consider incorporating the management arrangements for these reserves in planning strategies and local environmental plans.

  • Complete a NSW travelling stock reserve state planning framework to guide the management of travelling stock reserves under the care of Local Land Services.
  • Work with councils to identify reserves in planning strategies and local environmental plans.

Agricultural producers can transport agricultural produce for export north to the Port of Brisbane or Brisbane West Wellcamp Airport (Toowoomba) or south to the Ports of Newcastle and Botany.


The NSW Government is continuing to define and strengthen the freight network across the region. Bridge upgrades along the Kamilaroi and Oxley Highways at Wee Waa and Tamworth will increase the efficiency and safety of freight movements across the region. The NSW Government will continue to explore options and opportunities for a suitable second freight route across the rail line at Gunnedah.


The region currently has intermodal facilities at Narrabri, Moree and Wee Waa. There are opportunities to expand these facilities to shift agricultural freight from bulk to smaller volumes by packaging in containers for export.


A number of freight issues affecting agricultural producers arise outside the New England North West, including access, load scheduling and capacity at port facilities. The NSW Government’s NSW Freight and Ports Strategy aims to grow port capacity to match commodity throughput demands. This will improve agricultural export opportunities from the region.


The NSW Government continues to invest in rail capacity through the Fixing Country Rail program. The Australian Government is considering a proposed new inland rail corridor providing direct links from the region into Queensland (potentially to the Port of Brisbane). This would reduce the road freight demands on the Newell Highway. The NSW Government will continue to work with the Australian Government on an agreement for the rail corridor.


Agricultural Freight

There are an estimated 2.9 million tonnes of freight generated annually on broadacre grain farms in the region.13 This averages to around 640 heavy vehicle movements per day, although this fluctuates due to the harvesting of crops and seasonal demand.


Access to high productivity vehicle routes is important for transporting agricultural produce between the North West district and Queensland. The most easterly access for these vehicles is along the Newell Highway, with primary grain receival sites located at Bellata, Narrabri and Moree.


The Newell Highway is heavily used by agricultural industries, with significant tonnages of cotton, grains and stock feeds trucked north to Queensland and through to the Port of Brisbane for export. Freight volumes along the Newell Highway from Narrabri to the Queensland border are forecast to increase by around 80 per cent to 4.9 million tonnes to 2031.14 The forecast growth in freight on the Newell Highway does not take into account the proposed Melbourne – Brisbane Inland Rail Corridor.


Adding overtaking lanes on the Newell Highway between Narrabri and Boggabilla will decrease travel times and improve safety. The Moree bypass will also reduce travel times and improve the efficiency of freight movements through this area and connections to Queensland.


The NSW Grain Harvest Management Scheme was developed in response to the grain industry’s need for improved productivity and efficiency of grain transport. It is designed to decrease harvest risk, protect roads and increase productivity and efficiency by facilitating the grain industry to move the average vehicle load towards 100 per cent of the allowable mass. The scheme allows for eligible heavy vehicles to exceed regulated total mass limits by up to 5 per cent when delivering cereals, oil seeds and pulses to participating grain receivers, in participating council areas.


The New England and Bruxner highways facilitate the transport of livestock from farms to saleyards or feedlots; and from the saleyard to feedlots or abattoirs. It is estimated there are around 150 heavy vehicle movements each day when livestock feedlots are operating at full capacity.


The NSW Government’s Livestock Loading Scheme aims to improve freight productivity for the livestock sector by reducing the number of smaller truck movements. It allows for slightly increased weight limits for livestock trucks, contingent on the adoption of additional vehicle standards, safety measures and driver training.


Case Study: Connections with Queensland

The Newell and New England Highways and Mount Lindesay Road provide road connections to Queensland. Cross-border connectivity between NSW and Queensland will help accommodate the forecast growth of freight movements on the border.


The Newell Highway facilitates the movement of produce and services to regional primary industries and export markets. High value agricultural produce, such as grain, is transported from the North West to Brisbane West Wellcamp Airport (Toowoomba), the Port of Brisbane and Brisbane Airport for export. Livestock from the Moree Plains is typically moved to the Darling Downs for finishing at large South East Queensland feedlots.


The Bruxner Highway provides an important link to southern Queensland for the movement of commodities to the Port of Brisbane via Texas. The New England Highway and Mount Lindesay Road also connect the region with Queensland via Tenterfield to Brisbane West Wellcamp Airport (Toowoomba). They are important links for the meat processing industry, with produce sourced from Queensland and within the region. Around 180,000 head of box beef are distributed per year from Bindaree Beef at Inverell to international markets through the Port of Brisbane.15 Freight volumes along the New England Highway are forecast to increase by around 60 per cent to 2031.


Agricultural freight network

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New England North West agricultural freight network map

Action 1.4.1 Investigate opportunities to improve local road connections

All levels of government and stakeholders need to work together to improve freight networks. Local pinch points limit connections with the State and national road network and reduce productivity. The NSW Government will help councils to develop a prioritised rolling program of works to upgrade and improve local roads.


Through the NSW Government’s $550 million Fixing Country Roads and $345 million Bridges for the Bush programs targeted funding is available to resolve constraints on local road networks and reduce the cost for businesses of transporting goods to market. The programs are funding vital road and bridge upgrades to better connect local and regional roads to highways and freight hubs such as silos, saleyards, rail heads, supermarket distribution centres, industrial parks and depots.

  • Work with councils to identify, coordinate and prioritise local road projects that help support the regional freight network.


Action 1.4.2 Investigate opportunities for increased rail freight

The region’s outbound containerised agricultural freight is forecast to grow by nearly 10,000 TEUs (Twenty-foot Equivalent Units) by 2031, with meat and grains experiencing the highest growth.11 There are opportunities to cluster complementary activities to create freight and logistics precincts, based around freight intermodal terminals.


The NSW Government supports regional intermodal terminals and their ongoing role in the freight system. Transport for NSW is committed to engaging with councils to explore planning issues associated with the development of intermodal terminals within industrial precincts, including adjoining land use, and road and rail access to proposed sites.


The Rebuilding NSW – State Infrastructure Strategy (2014) reserved $400 million for the Fixing Country Rail program to meet the forecast growth in rail freight demand and support primary producers.

  • Implement local planning controls to protect freight and logistics facilities from encroachment of sensitive land uses.
  • Protect freight and transport corridors, and strategically locate freight intermodal terminals to support further industry development.


Action 1.4.3 Work with the Australian Government on the proposed Melbourne-Brisbane Inland Rail Corridor

The Melbourne-Brisbane Inland Rail Alignment Study (2010), prepared by the Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC), identified the preferred corridor for inland rail, passing through the region in Narrabri, Moree Plains and Gwydir. The fine-scale alignment of the corridor is yet to be settled. The Australian Government and ARTC are working to finalise planning, engineering design and assessment for the corridor.

  • Work with the Australian Government to develop an agreement to finalise planning, engineering design and assessment of the Melbourne-Brisbane Inland Rail corridor.


Action 1.4.4 Investigate opportunities to provide greater access for high productivity vehicles

High productivity vehicles improve the efficient movement of freight for transport operators, producers and consumers. Infrastructure constraints, however, may make it unsafe for these vehicles to traverse some bridges and roads.


The pilot Namoi Joint Organisation of Councils is undertaking a heavy vehicle route analysis to identify infrastructure constraints and impediments to current and future heavy vehicle access. One of the objectives of this work is to identify an approved regional road train network.


The Rebuilding NSW – State Infrastructure Strategy (2014) reserved $2 billion for the regional road freight corridor and $443 million for the Fixing Country Roads program,12 which will target regional road freight improvements.

  • Support the work of councils to investigate funding opportunities to provide greater access for high productivity vehicles across the region to support freight productivity.


Page last updated: 24/09/2019