Agriculture

   Austria’s dramatically differentiated topography has determined the country’s varied agriculture. The eastern region of the country, which falls rapidly into the vast Pannonian Plain that extends deeply into Hungary, provides for the broad stretch of flatland dependably warm summers required by many grain crops. Much of the rest of the country is hilly and, nearer to the Alps, dauntingly mountainous, more suitable to animal husbandry and forestry. Wood has long been an important Austrian commodity, both domestically and for export. Certain localities produce excellent fruit, most of which is consumed by Austrians themselves: Styrian apples, along with peaches and cherries raised in the region. With the exception of apples, however, these crops satisfy only seasonal tastes and not year-round needs.
   Agriculture was the primary occupation of Austrians not only in the Middle Ages but long after. Well into the 1930s, around a third of the population still worked the land either full or part time. Several of Austria’s traditional staple crops were cultivated from medieval times on. Eastern Austria was an early granary for the entire region and a center of the grain trade as well. Wood and forest products were very important long before the modern era, especially as peasants often sold them as a source of income when other crops, grains especially, dropped in price. These commodities became even more important in the 18th century as a rising population required more of them for heating, even as developing industries were calling upon them for energy and building. The first tree nursery was opened in Austria in 1720, marking the beginning of a policy of planned reforestation. (The modern-day Agricultural University [Universität für Bodenkultur] was not established until 1872.) Viticulture, again in the eastern and southeastern parts of the country, created a market of scale; the sale of wine in the late Middle Ages was an especially lucrative source of revenue for towns, monasteries, and noble houses. Between 1550 and 1570, the cultivation of certain specialty crops reached a high point: flax, especially in Upper Austria; hops; saffron; poppy seeds; mustard and one of its varieties, rape, which produces seeds that are processed for cooking oil; and woad and madder, the source of red and blue dyers’ extracts. Sheep husbandry was also important; by the 18th century the Austrian lands were self-sufficient in wool.
   See Austria, Upper.
   Wine virtually disappeared as an Austrian export at the end of the 17th century. Viticulture fell into the hands of small peasants and farmers, who often prized quantity over quality. Nevertheless, abandoned vineyards had their uses. By the 17th century, they had been seeded with corn, which was initially cultivated in the Ottoman lands. Other new and important crops were tobacco, introduced in 1648 in Upper Austria, then a year later in Lower Austria. Fruits became a significant crop in southern and eastern Styria at the same time. Mulberry trees were brought into Austria in the 18th century to supply raw silk to manufacturers in northern Italy.
   Until Austrian industrialization of the late 18th and early 19th centuries took them over for factories, the outlying areas of such cities as Vienna were the sites of vineyards, vegetable truck gardens, and dairies. Agricultural production in the Habsburg Empire, however, continued to underperform until the middle of the 19th century, largely because of the persistence of serfdom and the constraints on land use associated with it. Empress Maria Theresa and her son and successor, Joseph II, had made a start on reforming these arrangements to enlarge crop yields. The government also introduced model farms in the 1760s. But it was not until the complete abolition of serfdom after the Revolutions of 1848 that it was possible for people generally to profit from agriculture. The introduction of sugar beet cultivation into Austria in the second half of the 19th century proved to be lucrative for farmers and manufacturers alike as the sweetener, once a comparative luxury, became affordable for even modest households. Wheat and barley, along with clover (a cattle fodder), were also grown on a far larger scale.
   Food production dropped precipitately in the early years of the
   First Austrian Republic. Only about 18 percent of the country was arable. The population of the new state was small, however, and probably could have met its basic needs had appropriate technology and transportation facilities been in place. But the investment capital to finance these changes in agriculture was not available. Countries of the former Habsburg Empire that had exported farm commodities to the Austrian lands were more intent on protecting their domestic consumers than on selling farm commodities abroad. The Austrian provinces often balked at shipping their food products and commodities beyond their internal borders. Vienna, a city that in 1913 received deliveries of 900,000 liters of milk a day, was getting 60,000. Agrarian production had improved by the outbreak of World War II. Nevertheless, only massive amounts of foreign aid in 1946 from the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA) and the Cooperative for American Remittances to Europe (CARE) saved many Austrians from starvation once again. After 1948, the Marshall Plan also added significantly to the country’s food supply.
   The agricultural recovery of the Second Austria Republic since World War II, however, has been sustained over time. Farm technology improved greatly, to the point where the number of people engaged in agriculture had fallen from 23.7 percent in 1959 to a little under 10 percent in 1977. After the adoption of the Austrian State Treaty in 1955, governments continued to protect milk, meat, and grain, the preeminent staples of the Austrian diet. By 1980, however, these commodities were in surplus, and Austria began exporting them. Membership in the European Union (EU) has required Austria to cut back heavily government subsidies on basic agriculture that made the country virtually self-sufficient in basic commodities by 1986. But these disadvantages for growers have been offset to some degree by Austria’s successful shift to a high-wage industrial and service economy. A large number of citizens can now set their tables with foods imported from members of the EU and the rest of the world. Nevertheless, some Austrian agricultural specialties— most notably pumpkin seed oil—remain unique and very expensive both domestically and abroad. The 1985 scandal over adulterated wine has led Austrian vintners to limit production in the interests of quality and to charge higher prices for wine as well.

Historical dictionary of Austria. . 2014.

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