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Organic Farming Research - Austria

by Elfriede Fuhrmann


Austria has a long tradition in organic farming. The first organic farms were established in Carinthia (Kärnten) between 1927 and 1935 (Fuhrmann et al. 2006). In 2010, 545,000 hectares land (19.5 % - including alpine pastures) in Austria were managed organically by 21,800 farmers.

Organic farming research in Austria has also long been at the forefront, starting in the 1980s at what is now Bio Forschung Austria in Vienna and at the University of Natural Resources and Applied Life Sciences (BOKU) in Vienna.


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  • 1980: Bio Forschung Austria, formerly the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for Biological Agriculture and Applied Ecology in Vienna, is founded;
  • 1981: The University of Natural Resources and Applied Life Sciences (BOKU) in Vienna offers "Introduction to organic farming" as an elective course;
  • 1991: The Research Initiative for Organic Farming comes into existence as an informal alliance of scientists conducting work in the field of organic farming;
  • 1992: A guest Professorship in Organic Farming is established at the University of Natural Resources and Applied Life Sciences (BOKU) in Vienna;
  • 1994/95: The Research Initiative for Organic Farming carries out work on the research project “Integral Key Topics and Methodological Criteria for research on Organic Farming,” with the goal of clarifying the future content and methodological approaches of research in organic farming under special consideration of Austria;
  • 1996: The University of Natural Resources and Applied Life Sciences (BOKU) in Vienna establishes the Institute for Organic Farming (IfÖL);
  • 2000: Introduction to Organic Farming lectures begin as a compulsory subject at the University of Natural Resources and Applied Life Sciences (BOKU) in Vienna. The possibility to choose organic farming as a main focus for agricultural graduate studies is also introduced as well as courses on organic farming in arid, semiarid, subtropical, and tropical climates;
  • 2001: The Federal Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, Environment, and Water Managment (BMLFUW), today The Ministry of Life, involves all stakeholders on the issue of future developments in organic farming and launches a Bio-Enquête. The outcomes of these discussions are integrated into the Action Plan for Organic Farming (2001-2002);
  • 2001: BMLFUW presents the first Action Plan for Organic Farming, which provides recommendations for policy development and funding priorities in the areas of education and training, extension services, research, marketing, consumer information and public relations, quality management, and quality control;
  • 2003: The second Action Plan published;
  • 2005: Third Action Plan for Organic Farming for 2005-2008 begins;
  • 2008: Fourth Action Plan for Organic Farming for 2008-2010 begins.

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Key Institutions

The main actors in organic farming research are universities and private research institutions as well as the federal offices and research centers.


Private research institutions

Federal offices and research centres

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Funding for organic farming research

Research in organic food and farming is mainly funded by the Ministry of Life (Fuhrmann et al. 2006).

The budget of the Ministry of Life is divided into:

  • Funds for contract research
  • Expenditure for research of federal offices and research centres

The total budget for research in organic food and farming for the years 2006 to 2010 amounted to 10 million Euros. This figure includes the budget for external research and the budget for research activities of the federal research centres. More than 65 percent of the expenditure for organic food and farming was allocated to federal research centres (in total 4.5  million Euros for the years 2006 to 2008). The other 35 percent was allocated to contracts with external organisations (in total 2.5 million Euros between 2006 and 2008).


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Research programmes

In Austria, there are no specific programmes dedicated solely to organic food and farming research. However, organic food and farming research is embedded in the Programme for Research and Development of the Federal Ministry of Life (PFEIL). With the present Programme for Research and Development at the Ministry of Life 2006-2010 (PFEIL 10) research in organic farming is one of the focused research topics. PFEIL 15 (2011-2015) is in preparation.

Networks and cooperations are gaining special significance at national and at EU level. The same is also true for the programme level. With PFEIL 10 this cooperation and coordination is intensified further. Research organisations (universities), research institutions belonging to the Ministry, and private research organisations as well as other stakeholders are involved in finding research needs. Yearly meetings in cooperation with the presentation of project results allow for intensive discussions on research topics.

Future development is based on improving transnational cooperation. Within the framework of ERA-Net project CORE Organic, select research projects are to be administrated within the framework of transnational programmes.


  • Research topics are bundled thematically and focussed;
  • Efficient implementation of research results by increased interdisciplinary work, cooperation, and controlling taking into consideration the limited resources available (staff and budget);
  • Creation and safeguarding of the prerequisites for a high quality of life in Austria.


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Key research themes and project lists

The following subject areas and tasks within organic agriculture are defined in the current programme PFEIL 10 taking into consideration research activities being implemented in transnational cooperation within ERA-Net CORE Organic I:

Quality, Products, and Marketing

  • Uniform quality, standards, and production rules for organically produced food with an emphasis on health, product quality, and quality of life;
  • Influence of legal norms on the development of organic farms and biological agriculture in general;
  • Strategies for the conversion of enterprises, model farms and aspects of labour economy, further development of organic farming;
  • Development of schemes for improved marketing of organic plant production.

Development of holistic production (systems which consider the factors of site, plant nutrition, plant protection, cultivation techniques, ecology, resistance, and tolerance)

  • Use of varieties and genotypes with due consideration of sound use of energy and resource;
  • Improvement of biological plant protection, alternative fertilisation system;
  • Plant breeding research for disease resistance;
  • Organic production in special sectors (e.g. vegetables and ornamentals);
  • Reducing emissions of methane and nitrogen;
  • Animal production.

Profitability of animal husbandry in organic agriculture in harmony with animal welfare

  • Composition of specific feeding rations;
  • Reduce concentrates in dairy production;
  • Suitability of breeds for organic agriculture;
  • Development and examination of new stable systems that are suited to organic animal husbandry and allow to reach conformity with the standards, studies on the design of facilities to give the animals space to move (stable floor, cleanliness, hygienic safety, labour economics, possibility for the animals to root and grub);
  • Development of suitable therapeutic agents for organic animal husbandry.


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Dissemination: training and advice

Knowledge dissemination is integrated in research projects funded by the Ministry of Life. For this purpose, all funded projects contain a special paragraph on dissemination activities planned and for which target groups.

The Ministry of Life also provides financial support for advisory services in Austria. The advisory service in Austria is free of charge to all farmers. The Chamber of Agriculture has established a special advisory service for organic farmers.

Almost 90 percent of the organised organic farmers are members of Bio Austria. This farming association offers most of the available private consultation service.

The Ministry of Life also supports the utilization of research within the frame of its national funding scheme for innovation (Innovationsförderung). This includes applied research and technological development in the areas of crop production, animal production, processing, and marketing for organic food and farming.


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  • Fuhrmann, Elfriede; Silmbrod, Anita and Trondl, Doris (2006) CORE Organic Country Report Austria. In: Lange, Stefan; Williges, Ute; Saxena, Shilpi and Willer, Helga (Eds.) European Research in Organic Food and Farming. Reports on organisation and conduction of research programmes in 11 European countries, Bundesanstalt für Landwirtschaft und Ernährung (BLE) / Federal Agency for Agriculture and Food BLE, Bonn, Germany, chapter Austria, pp. 8-22.
  • Klingbacher, Elisabeth (2009): Austria - Country report. The Organic-World.net homepage, Research Institute of Organic Agriculture  FiBL, Frick, Switzerland. Available at www.organic-world.net/austria.html. Download of July 26, 2010
  • Alföldi, Thomas and Niggli, Urs; Anil, Sahin; Bellon, Stéphane; van der Meulen, Susanne (2010): National Research Priorities in Organic Food and Farming Systems and Identification of Research Gaps. Unpublished report in the framework of the CORE Organic II project, FiBL, Frick

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Organic farming research in 11 European countries

Cover Lange et al. 2006

Lange, Stefan; Williges, Ute; Saxena, Shilpi and Willer, Helga ( Eds. ) (2006) Research in Organic Food and Farming. Reports on organisation and conduction of research programmes in 11 European countries. Federal Agency for Agriculture and Food BLE, Bonn, Germany.