01. 06. 12. - 15:42
Organic farmers most resilient in battle to survive
Small Austrian farmers carrying out low pressure small scale operations are under threat after new statistics revealed that more and more small farmers were throwing in the towel and giving up the business.
One of the regions hardest hit in the past 11 years is the province of Lower Austria where the number of farms has fallen by a quarter with the small farms mainly being the ones to give up the ghost. Typically they are family farms where the elderly farmer has nobody willing to take over for such poor return on so much work.
That means around about 5,000 lower Austrian farmers have dropped out of the business since 1999 – which rises to 9,000 if you include part-time farmers.
Austria wide the situation is not much better – with a fifth of all farmers giving up the business. Not all of the land goes out of production – often the farmers simply rent their lands to larger farms leaning towards a tendency for larger businesses.
Hermann Schultes, president of the lower Austrian agricultural chamber, said he was not so worried about the trend: "As long as it was possible to maintain the agricultural character of the countryside and the competitiveness of the products they produce."
The local MP responsible for agricultural matters Stephan Pernkopf (ÖVP) said that it was clear that hard work alone was not enough and the subsidies were necessary if small farmers were to survive.
The tendency towards larger farms was also reflected in the keeping of animals with the average farmer in 2010 having 28 cows, that in 1995 was 20. The total number of cattle farmers fell in that period from 115,700 to 72,000. Pig farmers on average increased their ownership of animals from 35 to 85 and for sheep from 18 to 27 – and for goats from 4 to 8.
The decline in the number of pig farmers was particularly high with the numbers falling from 106,900 in 1995 to 82,604 years later and 38,000 by 2010.
But despite the tendency toward larger farmers in general in Austria farms are still small-scale compared to the EU average.
One of the farming groups that fared best were the high Alpine farmers with farmers in Salzburg for example mostly remaining in business in comparison with the rest of the country.
In 2010 statistics showed there were just under 10,000 farmers in Salzburg whereas 20 years earlier it was around 12,000. Although the decline is of a fifth, it is still a minimal reduction compared to what the rest of the country has seen which is closer to 40 per cent over the same period.
Part of the reason is because of the large number of Salzburg farmers that are organic. An estimated 40 per cent are registered as organic farmers whereas by comparison in Tyrol it is not even 20 per cent and in Upper Austria and low Austria about 13 per cent.