Mountain Agriculture


Agriculture in the Alps: A Challenge for Europe and Society

Agriculture in mountain regions is struggling with various challenges putting a strain on their situation. More than ever is it affected by developments that happen outside mountain regions. At the same time it should fulfil more and more functions that are not directly linked to food production.

by Flavio V. Ruffini & Thomas Streifeneder, European Academy Bozen/Bozano (EURAC)

Special Characteristics of Mountain Agriculture

The area of conflicts between different interests around the agriculture in the Alps (BROGGI et al. 1997).
Agricultural production in mountain regions is hampered by natural obstacles, leading to increased workloads, fewer possibilities of mechanisation, a greater need for special machinery, bad accessibility and limited possibilities of operational extension and production alternatives. In summary, higher production costs go hand in hand with lower production proceeds. Productivity and income in Austria, for instance, are 1/4 and 1/5 lower, respectively, in the Alpine arc than outside it (TAMME et al. 2003 ).

With regard to subsidisation, agricultural policy in the Alpine States attempts to take these production conditions into account by classifying agricultural enterprises into less-favoured area groups. The classification is based on the endeavour to ensure the ability of mountain agriculture to compete with agriculture in more favourable regions, as well as the subsistence of mountain farmers. The most important criteria for this classification are topography (steepness, altitude), accessibility and climate. However, it should be emphasised at this point that not all regions in the Alpine arc are faced with difficult agricultural production conditions.

Mountain agriculture is frequently equated with a high environmental compatibility and a high product quality. While mountain farms undeniably benefit from the healthy, natural environment, product quality and environmentally-friendly and/or landscape-friendly management depend primarily on the farmer’s professionalism and/or an intensity of operation adapted to the location.

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Further Readings & Links

This special issue of CIPRA Info on mountain agriculture gives a good overview on this topic (in French, German, Italian and Slovenian)