Austria Austria Austria Austria

Agriculture and Horticulture Austria

Agriculture and horticulture in numbers


Agriculture accounts for only a small part of gross domestic production (GDP) in Europe, and it is considered that the overall vulnerability of the European economy to changes that affect agriculture is low (4). However, agriculture is much more important in terms of area occupied (farmland and forest land cover approximately 90 % of the EU's land surface), and rural population and income (5).


The prevailing annual crops include durum wheat, grain maize, soybean and sunflowers in the warmest parts of Austria. Grasslands are dominant in the highlands and mountainous regions (13).

Vulnerabilities Austria

The agricultural area including alpine pastures makes up about 40% of the Austrian total territory. The main Austrian crop production is located in the eastern and northeastern low-lands of the country. As in these regions the yearly potential evapotranspiration has the same magnitude as the precipitation, Austrian crop production is quite sensitive to shifts in soil water availability. There are big regional differences within short distances in the type of agricultural production systems (mainly permanent grassland and dairy production, arable crop production and orchard and wine farming) due to the topographical impact of the Alps on regional climate, especially in precipitation and temperature. These facts are also the reason why regional vulnerabilities in agriculture vary in a wide range within Austria (1).

Projected changes in climatic conditions for the Czech Republic and the northern part of Austria show that by 2020, the combination of increased air temperature and changes in the amount and distribution of precipitation will lead to a prolonged growing season and significant shifts in the agroclimatic zones in Central Europe (13). In particular, the areas that are currently most productive will be reduced and replaced by warmer but drier conditions. In the same time the higher elevations will most likely experience improvement in their agroclimatic conditions. This positive effect might be short-lived, as by 2050, even these areas might experience much drier conditions than observed currently. Both the rate and the scale of the shift are amazing as by 2020 (assuming upper range of the climate change projections) only 20–38% of agriculture land in the evaluated region will remain in the same agroclimatic zone and by 2050 it might be less than 2% (13).

For grassland, especially water deficit has been a problem within the last years. In 2003 the estimated yield loss in Austrian grassland production systems due to water stress exceeded 200 Mio. Euro (2). Especially in the areas of intensive cultivation in eastern Austria, irrigation became a common technique within the last years, leading to a decrease of the groundwater level (3).

For Austria, the change of crop yield in 2080 referred to 1990 has been estimated based on several combinations of models and scenarios; the outcomes show an increase ranging from 16.7% - 20.5% (6).

Vulnerabilities Europe - Climate change not main driver

Socio-economic factors and technological developments

Climate change is only one driver among many that will shape agriculture and rural areas in future decades. Socio-economic factors and technological developments will need to be considered alongside agro-climatic changes to determine future trends in the sector (5).

From research it was concluded that socio-economic assumptions have a much greater effect on the scenario results of future changes in agricultural production and land use then the climate scenarios (7).

The European population is expected to decline by about 8% over the period from 2000 to 2030 (8).

Scenarios on future changes in agriculture largely depend on assumptions about technological development for future agricultural land use in Europe (7). It has been estimated that changes in the productivity of food crops in Europe over the period 1961–1990 were strongest related to technology development and that effects of climate change were relatively small. For the period till 2080 an increase in crop productivity for Europe has been estimated between 25% and 163%, of which between 20% and 143% is due to technological development and 5-20% is due to climate change and CO2 fertilisation. The contribution of climate change just by itself is approximately a minor 1% (9).

Care should be taken, however, in drawing firm conclusions from the apparent lack of sensitivity of agricultural land use to climate change. At the regional scale there are winners and losers (in terms of yield changes), but these tend to cancel each other out when aggregated to the whole of Europe (7).

Future changes in land use

If technology continues to progress at current rates then the area of agricultural land would need to decline substantially. Such declines will not occur if there is a correspondingly large increase in the demand for agricultural goods, or if political decisions are taken either to reduce crop productivity through policies that encourage extensification or to accept widespread overproduction (7).

Cropland and grassland areas (for the production of food and fibre) may decline by as much as 50% of current areas for some scenarios. Such declines in production areas would result in large parts of Europe becoming surplus to the requirement of food and fibre production (7). Over the shorter term (up to 2030) changes in agricultural land area may be small (10).

Although it is difficult to anticipate how this land would be used in the future, it seems that continued urban expansion, recreational areas (such as for horse riding) and forest land use would all be likely to take up at least some of the surplus. Furthermore, whilst the substitution of food production by energy production was considered in these scenarios, surplus land would provide further opportunities for the cultivation of bioenergy crops (7).

Europe is a major producer of biodiesel, accounting for 90% of the total production worldwide (11). In the Biofuels Progress Report (12), it is estimated that in 2020, the total area of arable land required for biofuel production will be between 7.6 million and 18.3 million hectares, equivalent to approximately 8% and 19% respectively of total arable land in 2005.

The agricultural area of Europe has already diminished by about 13% in the 40 years since 1960 (7).

Adaptation strategies

In the Marchfeld, Austria’s most important area for crop production, the decrease of the groundwater level started 30 years ago, mainly driven by increasing irrigation. To avoid a further decrease and to accommodate the growing demand for irrigation water, the “Marchfeldkanal project”, financed by the Austrian government and the Land Niederösterreich, started in 1987. A water system of nearly 100 km length brings water from the Danube into this dry region. In 2003 the final completion of the channel was reached. With the Marchfeldkanal 4000 to 6000 l/s of fresh Danube water flows into the Marchfeld, which directly can be used for  irrigation from the channel and additional an enrichment of the groundwater by three percolation basins is achieved (3).

Within the last years the yield losses in grassland production due to water stress showed the vulnerability of this very important agricultural sector in Austria. Pilot projects to develop a water stress insurance for grassland production have been initiated. Because other adaptation measures are not possible or have limited effects in grassland production, an insurance seems to be the only possibility to lower the vulnerability of this sector against climate change (3).


The references below are cited in full in a separate map 'References'. Please click here if you are looking for the full references for Austria.

  1. Federal Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, Environment and Water Management (2010)
  2. Buchgraber et. al (2004), in: Federal Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, Environment and Water Management (2010)
  3. Federal Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, Environment and Water Management (2006)
  4. EEA (2006), in: EEA, JRC and WHO (2008)
  5. EEA, JRC and WHO (2008)
  6. EEA (2003)
  7. Rounsevell et al. (2005)
  8. UN (2004), in: Alcamo et al. (2007)
  9. Ewert et al. (2005), in: Alcamo et al. (2007)
  10. Van Meijl et al. (2006), in: Alcamo et al. (2007)
  11. JNCC (2007), in: Anderson (ed.) (2007)
  12. European Commission (2006), in: Anderson (ed.) (2007)
  13. Trnka et al. (2011)