Austria – background info on case farms


The average farm in Austria holds 18.8 ha of                                 Case farm 1
agriculturally used land. The total cattle                                         Case farm 2
population is not quite 2.0 million heads.                                        Full Austrian report

About 36,500 dairy farms supply 2.9 million tons of milk per year of which 14% is organic. The average milk quota per dairy farm amounts to roughly 80,000 kg. Organic dairy farms have an average milk quota of about 60,000 kg.

Overall findings for the studied farms:
In Austria grassland is mainly situated in mountain areas. Therefore 70 % of all Austrian dairy farms are in these disadvantaged areas and 2/3 of milk is produced there. For the rapid sustainability assessment, farms were identified for a case study which should represent traditional alpine dairy production of this area. Therefore members of the organic dairy cooperative „Sennerei Hatzenstädt“ were chosen to participate in the rapid assessment. The cooperative is situated in Tyrol, an alpine province in the West of Austria. It has about 40 members, which deliver their milk to the cooperative dairy plant where it is processed to hard cheese and other dairy products. Twelve farms were selected for interviews.The farms were relatively homogenous in their structures; they were small in size, they were managed as typical low input systems with relatively low milk yield, but also with an absolutely low use of concentrates.

Farms were managed by the farmer´s family, which typically consisted of members of three generations and therefore no further staff was employed. The on-site conditions were characterised by steep slopes, a short growing season and an annual precipitation of 1200 to 1800 mm. Only permanent grassland, but no arable land was farmed. All farms have several economic cornerstones: the main source of income is the dairy production, in addition to incomes from forest, direct marketing of meat, agrotourism and other non-farm incomes. The herds included mainly Brown Swiss or dual-purpose Simmenthal, but one herd consisted of Jersey. Two farms produced milk with cows from the local Pinzgauer breed.

Some farms were specifically selected because of interesting properties, such as

  • Using grass cobs made from home grown forage to replace concentrates
  • Well-functioning direct marketing of all farm-products and special breed for increasing milk solids

Figure: Spur diagram for Austria

Overall findings for the studied farms

In this region trees and hedges are structure elements of the landscape and the farms are managed at a rather extensive level. In the light of this, the low score for biodiversity was surprising. There were two main explanations for this: Firstly, it appeared that farmers may have underestimated the level of biodiversity on their farms. For all of them grassland management showed a low intensity (2 cuttings, no mineral fertilizer applied) and hedges were maintained. Secondly, farmers could not receive payments for the maintenance of these landscape elements from the Austrian agri-environmental program ÖPUL. Therefore, the existence of these were probably not present in the minds of famers interviewed.

Soil Management
The farms had no arable land, only permanent grassland, so there was no risk for erosion and leaching of nutrients and no pronounced soil management was present. But farmers mentioned a lack of soil analyses and this point seemed to be important to them.

Water management
Water management showed a very low score which reflects the local climatic conditions: In this region high annual precipitation could be observed and therefore it does not seem important for farmers to think about water management. On the one hand they had enough water at all times, otherwise farms have a relatively low water consumption (only for animals and cleaning; no irrigation).

Fertiliser Management
The scores for fertilizer management were relatively homogeneous because of strict legistic constraints.

Energy and Carbon
In the spur “energy and carbon”, the use of renewable energy received a high score because most of farms used solar panels for producing hot water. For this spur it was very difficult to collect hard data, because none of the farmers kept separate records of energy use for household and farm. Therefore the values were often estimated.

Social Capital
Many farms practiced agrotourism and got in touch with people which had no knowledge about agriculture. They opened their farms to them and thereby brought agriculture closer to the consumers.

Farm business resilience
Farms scored relatively high on farm business resilience. The main explanation for this was found in the several economic cornerstones of the farms. All of them have several ways to generate income, e.g. from forest or agrotourism. Furthermore, animal health and welfare were highly valued because of low costs for veterinarian and a relatively long grazing period. Nevertheless this perception seemed to be a rather subjective view of farmers, as half of the cows were kept in tether barns during the winter period. Health and Welfare
Perceived animal health and welfare  reached high values.

Other interesting findings
All farms had a very low concentrate input for feeding the cows, so the quality of forage played an important role. Especially winter feeding is a challenge: only hay and no silage is fed to cows in order to be able to produce hard cheese. Due to the climate condition of this region farms often used indoor drying installations to realize a short drying time. Two farmers operated these installations with energy from wood chip biomass.

Some farms explicitly aimed at producing milk with zero input of concentrates and therefore they used grass cobs processed from their own forage.

Case farm 1, Austria
Case farm 2, Austria

More about the rapid sustainability assessment method


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