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The organic sector in Austria holds a prominent position within the country’s agricultural industry. In 2021, the organic land and land under conversion was 26.5% of the utilized agricultural area (UAA) (FiBL, 2023). The development of the organic sector in Austria has been fuelled both by early organic subsidies in 1992-1995 and by the consumer demand for organic products, that are accessible to a wide range of consumers in different retail chains. The organic market accounts for 11.6% of the total retail food market. In Austria, organic farmland grew by more than 7000% between 1985 and 2021. However, the growth rate between 2001 and 2021 was lower compared to other focus countries (FiBL, 2023). The two main land use types in organic agriculture are permanent grasslands (57.7%) and arable land (40.5%) (EUROSTAT, 2023b).

Key drivers and barriers for the organic sector development

The retailers and policy commitment to sustainable practices, consumer demand for organic products and the presence of political support have been the main driving forces for the expansion of the organic sector in Austria. A set of early policy measures to promote conversion in remote and structurally weak places have helped organic agriculture to become a significant player in and well-integrated within the country’s agricultural sector. The key driving force behind this development was policy rather than the weakened organic farming umbrella association. Still, well-functioning peer-to-peer-networks for capacity building among farmers have considerably added to this high share of organic farming in Austria.

One central aspect stands out as conducive to organic farming; the involvement and commitment of the state in active promotion of organic farming as well as the involvement of other mainstream actors such as large retail chains/supermarkets in the marketing of organic products. This is accompanied by a very good accessibility of organic products by consumers. In the early days of organic farming, Austria has strongly relied on a supply-push strategy, but over time evermore measures (governmental and private) have been taken to promote demand (e.g., public procurement, awareness raising campaigns). Consumer awareness towards organic food is very high in Austria. Organic farming has been integrated into mainstream agricultural extension and advice services at a very early stage. Well-functioning peer-to-peer-networks specially support organic knowledge capacity building among farmers has been ample for the high share of organic farming in Austria. Research and development funds are granted in Austria. Organic farming is defined in political agreements. Organic farming is seen more as another option for agriculture, addressing certain issues conventional agriculture is dealing with. Overall, organic farming is accompanied by ambitious action plans with defined resources. In Austria the organic farming associations have been increasingly dealt with internal conflicts, which lowered their influence on organic market development and weakened their position vis-à-vis the state and conventional farming sector. 


The country’s commitment to sustainable practices, consumer demand for organic products and the presence of political support have been the main driving forces for the expansion of the organic sector in Austria. This led to organic farming becoming a significant player in the country’s agricultural sector. The AKIS has a key-role in supporting this growth. The strength of AKIS for organic lies in the experienced and well-established network of actors, but there are weaknesses in relation to coordination, strategic focus, and specialised support. Overcoming these challenges would require targeted funding, improved coordination, and stronger focus on farmers’ education, advisors’ training, and innovative integration of research and practice.

Policy background of AKIS relevant to organic sector

In Austria, policy support and government driven development of advisory services are of great importance. The Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, Regions and Water Management financially and institutionally supports compulsory advanced training programmes on organic farming and conversion under the Austrian Rural Development Programmeme (ÖPUL 2014-2020), recently replaced by the CAP Strategic Plan (2023- 2027). The Bio Aktionsprogrammem (2023 – ongoing) provides additional funding for education and advisory services and calls for organic education projects. The Austrian CAP Strategic Plan (SP) main targets are modernization, improvement, and development of AKIS and digitalization. To reach these targets the most important measures are: Improving and further developing the structure and functionality of the national AKIS; strengthen the knowledge base; increase practical relevance and targetgroup-oriented content; establish new working groups to provide platform to day-to-day sectoral discussion on burning issues; establish cross-sectoral and cross-industry innovation in the local and regional context; support international research, knowledge exchange and cooperation; support internal cooperation among actors in AKIS. To address these measures, the CAP SP foresees a key role for the Chamber of Agriculture ARGE Bioberatung and the Organic Farmers’ Association BIO AUSTRIA in the national AKIS system in cooperation with other institutional actors e.g., the federal authority system.

Knowledge creation research and innovation
The organisation of the AKIS in Austria may be best described as a well-established network connecting farmers, researchers, extension services, policymakers, or industry representatives. The primary objective of AKIS in Austria is to promote knowledge exchange, innovation, and sustainable practices across the agricultural sector, including organic agriculture. LEADER programmes, as well as EIP-Agri projects, have been key to foster knowledge and innovation in organic farming. There is further potential seen in developing research and practice cooperation, for example by organising demonstrations on technologically advanced farms to spotlight innovative practices.

Education and training
Public educational and (vocational) training programmes on organic agriculture are coordinated at a national level, especially on regulatory aspects and on-farm processing of organic farming. There hardly exists capacity building for organic advisors and trainers.

Training programmes relevant for organic farmers focusing on-farm processing are available. Organic associations and the Rural Training Institute (LFI) are the most important providers for training courses for organic producers. Nearly all courses for organic producers are subsidized (at least 50%) under the regime of the Austrian Rural Development Programme. However, the experts interviewed in the OrganicTargets4EU project report a lack of public funding for education courses for organic farmers. There is a lack of teachers’ interest or understanding for organic farming, reflects a limited number of teachers with comprehensive knowledge of organic farming. A whole organic track for agricultural education and qualification in organic production at A-level is advisable according to the experts.

Advice and consultancy
In Austria, organic farming advice is provided by (organic) farming associations as well as the Chamber of Agriculture ‘ARGE Bioberatung’. Through close cooperation with the latter, the Organic Farmers’ Association Bio Austria is able to draw on national funds for extension services and consulting since 2017. The collaboration also builds the foundation for advisory services across all regions in Austria. Still funding for extension services is considered not to be sufficient and comes with high administration requirements. Exchange with research organisations is not sufficient either, and advisors often lack time (because of bureaucratic duties) in their work with organic clients.