General overview of the situation in Rural Areas in the MS
In Austria, around 3.27 million hectares of land were used for agricultural purposes; 1.40 million hectares thereof for arable farming; 1.79 million hectares for permanent grassland; 50.119 hectares for vineyards; 15,396 hectares for orchards, and 7,677 hectares for other purposes (house gardens, as well as vine and [forest] tree nurseries). With small- and medium-size farms, agriculture in Austria is typically small- and medium-structured. The average size of a farm is 16.8 hectares of utilised agricultural area (UAA), the average number of animals kept per hectare is comparatively low (0,67) according to the EU average (0,80). 70% of the countries UAA is covered under Less Favoured Area, because of mountain areas.
Due to its topographical situation, the high uptake of agri-environmental measures and organic farming by Austrian farmers, the level of intensive agricultural production is rather low. However, main environmental pressures reported in the SWOT assessment are loss of biodiversity, diffuse pollution of water, soil erosion and C02 emission. Specific water problems are mainly reported in the Eastern parts of Austria, where hot spots of diffuse pollution exist. Nitrate and pesticides are reported to be problematic in these areas, but both pollutants’ concentration seems to be decreasing.
In order to tackle these problems, Austria makes a lot of effort in its RD programme and has allocated by far most of the budget to Axis 2. Thereby, the fundamental components are the subsidisation for mountain farmers (compensatory allowance) and the Agri-environmental Programme ”ÖPUL 2007“ covering about 30 measures. The main idea behind this approach is to follow a preventive strategy to protect the environment in advance. In order to implement this strategy Austria tries a) to motivate a large share of farmers to participate and b) to provide environmental measures that cover the full territory and not only hot spots. With regards to water, the measures provided to farmers mainly focus on the reduction of diffuse pollution and cover the whole territory of Austria. Two particular measures regarding water protection are only available in two “Länder”.
Organic farming plays an important role. In 2005, 20,104 farms were managed under the organic farming scheme covering 360,369 hectares, or 14% of the UAA (alpine pastures not included).
In Austria LEADER will be implemented mainly via Axis 3. Therefore, the planning for LEADER takes place within the scope of the Axis 3 working group. The main topics that should be addressed are i) renewable energies, ii) cooperation of tourism and agriculture, iii) qualification and iv) innovation.
Share of public budget among the three axes
13.8 percent of the programme funds for the programme period 2007-2013 are granted for Axis 1. 72 percent of the programme funds and therewith by far the largest share are reserved for Axis 2. Primary components are the Agri-environmental Programme ÖPUL 2007 and the subsidy for mountain farmers (compensatory allowance). But also forestry measures are subsidised under this Axis. The remaining budget is allocated to Axis 3. Axis 3 summarises the measures that go beyond the remote fields of agriculture and forestry, such as non-agrarian enterprises, communities and various organisations responsible for projects.
The implementation of the measures is controlled in various ways, mostly by using a combination of different types of controls. On spot controls are mostly part of this system. However, the frequency of these controls is not mentioned in the programme.
Austria is following the CMEF guidance on monitoring. No additional indicators for water have been developed.
Main strengths and weakness of the RD programme with regards to water:
The high share of the budget allocated for environmental protection can be explained by the fact that Austria is following a preventive approach in order to minimise the risks of new environmental pollution. In respect to this approach more than 70% of the public budget is allocated to Axis 2 with a main focus on agri-environmental measures (ÖPUL).
These measures are targeted either at the farm level following a multi objective approach or the focus is on individual areas where specific protection is needed. Measures targeted at the farm level can be applied in a ”staggered approach“ which allow farmers to decide how far they want to go beyond minimum standards under cross compliance. For several farm types specific measures are provided. In addition to these farm level measures, specific measures for certain areas are provided (e.g. Protection of important aquatic or nature ecosystems). For most water related measures under ÖPUL there is clear focus on diffuse pollution and other pressures such as hydro-morphological issues are less addressed.
However, even if the budget provided under Axis 2 is predominant measure under the other two axes are also focusing on water issues. Under Axis 1 the strongest link is via measures 121/125 where farmers can get funding for the modernisation of farms and under Axis 3 the link to water is established via measure 323 on Conservation and upgrading of the rural heritage.
Even if water abstraction is not reported as a pressure in Austria the Water Framework Directive (WFD) allows, only in certain cases, new modifications to water. It remains unclear how the extension of irrigated areas under measure 121 will be handled under the terms of the WFD. A link to the relevant paragraph (art 4.7 WFD) was not found in the report. Funding for new investments beside irrigation is clearly linked to efficiency improvements (e.g. better machinery for fertilization) which should bring positive effects to water as well.
Overall the link to the WFD in particular is mainly legally based and the WFD is mentioned as an important directive to be implemented. It is not clear how the specific measures under the RD programme will interfere with the programme of measures under the WFD. Nevertheless due to the high importance water has in the RD programme (in terms of budget and amount of measures) and the overall preventive approach it is clear that if the farmers’ uptake is high the Austrian RD programme will be a key for achieving the objectives set by the WFD.
Depending on the WFD implementation in Austria and the further development of cross compliance in the EU, a revision of the programme could become necessary as some of the measures might not be eligible under the RD programme. This could be used to design some more specific measures for measures addressing hydro-morphological pressures, which are currently poorly developed.