In the EU, Austria is number one in organic farming as around 26% of its surface is organically farmed and one in five businesses is organic.
The Land of the Alps is therefore also the land of organic food.
And organic produce is easy to recognise with the EU Organic Logo and the AMA Organic Seal as legally regulated indications of this special form of farming. The EU Organic Regulation 2018/848 is the legal basis for organic produce. AMA-Marketing has developed even stricter guidelines for the AMA Organic Seal. Accredited independent monitoring bodies carry out strict checks on behalf of the food authorities at least once a year.
Organic production follows these basic principles:
- Working within natural systems and cycles and a wide range of plant varieties and animal breeds are intended to increase biodiversity. Special attention is paid to species-appropriate animal keeping and organic feed.
- There is no use of genetic engineering and the use of external energy is minimised as much as possible too.
- No use of synthetic chemical pesticides or synthetic mineral fertilisers, promoting a diverse soil life.
Austria has voluntarily been opposed to genetic engineering right from the start. Therefore, not one single hectare of cultivable land is used for genetically modified plants. Organic farming, which fundamentally rejects genetic engineering, has thus become a great story of success in the Land of the Alps.
Austria covers a total of 8.4 million hectares. The area used for farming comprises 2.8 million hectares – all of which is completely GMO-free.
About half of this area is cropland and - as befits a Land of the Alps - a quarter of this is made up of farmed alpine pastures and meadows. Cattle graze on the lush grass of the mountain pastures or it is cut and dried into hay. Animal feed, milk, dairy products and cheese are 100% GMO-free.
Special attention is paid to animal welfare in the Land of the Alps. The daily work in the barns and constant animal contact, such as when feeding and hygiene routines play a key role in this. In addition, there are guidelines within voluntary modules that specify exactly which special regulations for animal welfare must be observed. As a result, the animals enjoy living conditions that include more space and areas with straw bedding. The well-being of the animals is defined by the term “animal welfare”. This encompasses the principle of the five freedoms, on which the AMA guidelines for animal welfare are also based:
The well-being of the animals is defined by the term “animal welfare”. This encompasses the principle of the five freedoms, on which the AMA guidelines for animal welfare are also based:
- Freedom from hunger, thirst and malnutrition
- Freedom from discomfort: ranging from the temperature (in the barn), ventilation and lighting to space and facilities for rest
- Freedom from pain, injury and disease
- Freedom from fear and distress: this includes, for example, sufficient space and opportunities for species-appropriate social behaviour
- Freedom to express normal behaviour: cows, for example, like to be massaged with a cow brush
In Austria, clean drinking water comes out of the tap, so no addition of chlorine is necessary. Farm animals also drink clean water. This is one of the foundations for the best dairy and meat products.
Austria has much more water than it consumes. Half of it comes directly from the mountains, while the rest is groundwater. Only about 3% is used. Of this small percentage, households and industry consume around two thirds, whilst agriculture needs just 5%.
Even lakes, streams and rivers enjoy the highest water quality.
The Land of the Alps has also been the land of mountain pastures for thousands of years. There are about 8,000 of these mountain landscapes with managed grasslands. In summer the animals graze there, moving freely on the alpine pastures. This is like altitude training for athletes: sunlight, fresh air, lots of exercise and the high altitude for more red blood cells to transport oxygen. The animals eat a variety of grasses and herbs of the alpine flora. Gourmets appreciate the special nuances of flavour, which can be tasted in milk and cheese in particular, but also in meat.
Mountain pastures reach right up into the alpine region of the mountains. They shape the landscape and provide special ways to keep animals. Around 300,000 cattle, of which 50,000 are dairy cows, are taken up onto the Alps every year. In addition, there are 130,000 sheep and goats.
Farming of the mountain pastures is diverse. Shepherds keep watch on more than half of the mountain pastures in summer. Some pastures are only grazed by youngstock, others by dairy cows as well. Around 60,000 tonnes of milk are produced each alpine summer. In many cases, the milk is even processed into cheese right there on the mountain pasture.
Farming is traditionally small-scale in the Land of the Alps. More than 90% are family businesses. Usually several generations live and work on a farm. Each family member brings knowledge and experience. Many farms have been in existence for several hundred years – the oldest since 1313. Sustainability and tradition are what matter here.
The average size of a farm is around 20 hectares. On any one of the approximately 25,000 farms operating as dairy businesses, there is an average of 22 cows. 70% of the country lies within mountainous regions, which calls for a lot of hard work due to the gradient and weather. The steep slopes necessitate that some jobs such as mowing grass must also be done manually.
The mountain pastures are a special feature of the Land of the Alps. They are grasslands that stretch right up into the alpine region of the mountains. These areas are important because they shape the landscape and offer special ways to keep animals. In summer they are grazed by cattle, sheep and goats, which can roam freely.
Alpine cattle breeds
In the Land of the Alps, centuries of breeding and experience have selected animals that can cope well with the difficult conditions in the mountains. What really counts is not peak production of milk or meat, but rather health, long life and adaptation to the alpine conditions.
Because the slopes in the Land of the Alps are often steep and scattered with rocks; there are streams and gorges and the weather can change very quickly. In spring and autumn, there are frequent onsets of winter weather with snow, cold temperatures and storms.
Cattle reach a body weight of several hundred kilogrammes and certain breeds are more suitable for grazing on alpine meadows. In summer, not only cattle but also sheep and goats graze on these mountain pastures.
The alpine cattle breeds are: Murbodner, Kärntner and Waldviertler Blondvieh, Tux-Zillertaler, Ennstaler Bergschecken, Pustertaler Sprinzen, Original Braunvieh.
Feeding with grass and hay
In the Land of the Alps, Haymilk has been protected as a “Traditional speciality guaranteed” (TSG) since 2016. Around 500,000 tonnes of Haymilk are produced each year. This is around 16% of the total quantity of Austrian milk. This milk, produced under special conditions, is appreciated by consumers and is enjoying increasing popularity.
The special way of hay farming forms the basis of this. Haymilk cows get fresh grasses and herbs in summer and hay in winter. Hay is dried grass. This means a lot of work for the farmer: the grass must be mowed at the right time and dried in the meadow with the power of the sun. The hay is turned and brought to the farm, stored in designated buildings and fed to the animals.
The EU quality label TSG was awarded in the German-speaking area for the first time in 2016. Since 2019, Haymilk from sheep and goats may also carry the EU seal.