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The challenge

Opportunities in northern Australia

Northern Australia makes a substantial contribution to the Australian economy, particularly through agriculture, mining and tourism. Much of CSIRO's work since 2009 has arisen from CSIRO delivering the Northern Australia Science Review to the Northern Australian Land and Water Taskforce. This case study has focussed on two projects from the portfolio of research.

A map showing the truck movements Australia-wide for industries including beef, grains, cotton, pigs, rice, dairy and horticulture.

Transport Network Strategic Investment Tool (TraNSIT)

Agricultural transport costs are high. Agriculture supply chains in Australia are often characterised by transport distances of over 1000 km between production, processing and markets, with transport costs accounting for up to 40 per cent of the market price.

Flinders and Gilbert Agricultural Resource Assessment (FGARA)

Millions of hectares of soil across northern Australia are potentially suitable for irrigated agriculture. However, the use of land in this way is dependent upon the users being confident that they will have reliable access to sufficient water. It is also important to ensure that diverting water for use in irrigated agriculture does not create any adverse environmental consequences downstream.

Our response

Research to develop northern Australia

CSIRO's research in support of the development of northern Australia which began in the 1930s continues to this day. It has expanded to include research to support the minerals and energy, tourism, wildlife, Indigenous knowledge, defence and fisheries industries as well as the emerging carbon economy.


CSIRO developed TraNSIT to analyse both small and large scale investments in the agriculture supply chain, with current applications covering almost all Australian agricultural logistics.

TraNSIT works by analysing every possible combination of transport routes and modes (road and rail) and determining those that optimise vehicle movements between enterprises in the agriculture supply chain.


With contribution from over 100 researchers, CSIRO provided a comprehensive and integrated evaluation of the feasibility, economic viability and sustainability of agricultural development in the Flinders and Gilbert catchments in north Queensland.

This produced information products ranging from highly technical activity reports down to integrated catchment reports, summaries and factsheets – all of which have been used to make better informed decisions in the Flinders and Gilbert catchments.

The results

Better informed decision making

The impact

CSIRO has around 200 current and recent projects which have aimed to improve northern Australia's hard and soft infrastructure, economic value chains, Indigenous knowledge and land management, Indigenous economic development, public health, land and water management and understanding of northern Australia's environment.


TraNSIT has led to better informed investments in transport infrastructure, with reduced travel times being the primary benefit. Reduced travel times have not only reduced costs along Australia's agriculture supply chain, but has also reduced the risk of accidents due to driver fatigue and alleviated the stress placed on the agriculture being transported.


In terms of economic benefits, the FGARA project reduces the likelihood that water managers will invest in agricultural or water projects that will become loss-making or unviable in the future. The project has also allowed farmers to optimise cropping choices and manage crop production uncertainty with greater effectiveness.

The net present value (NPV) of these two projects is estimated to be $83.9 , with a benefit-cost ratio (BCR) of 9.31.

Download printable version: Agricultural development and intensification in northern Australia PDF (210 KB)

Download the impact evaluation report:

  1. ACIL Allen Consulting. 2018. Northern Australia – An Independent Assessment. ACIL Allen Consulting: Canberra

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