The Austrian Rural Development Programme (RDP) was formally adopted by the European Commission on December 12, 2014, outlining Austria's priorities for using the 7.7 billion EUR of public money that is available for the 7 year period 2014-2020 (3.94 billion EUR from the EU budget and 3.76 billion EUR of national co-funding, plus 111 million EUR of additional national funding top-ups). With 71% of the support allocated to better management of natural resources and encouraging climate friendly farming practices, one of the objectives of the RDP is that close to 80% of the agricultural area is under contract for agri-environment schemes, organic farming or as Areas of Natural Constraint, and that roughly 600 000 training places will be created to boost innovation and more sustainable agricultural practices. Further measures include investment in farm structures (20 000 farm holdings) and rural infrastructure.
Rural Development is the 2nd Pillar of the Common Agricultural Policy, providing Member States with an envelope of EU funding to manage nationally or regionally under multi-annual, co-funded programmes. In total, some 118 programmes are foreseen in all 28 Member States. The new RD Regulation for the 2014-2020 period addresses six economic, environmental and social priorities, and programmes contain clear targets setting out what is to be achieved. Moreover, in order to coordinate actions better and maximise synergies with the other European Structural & Investment Funds (ESIF), a Partnership Agreement has been agreed with each Member State highlighting its broad strategy for EU-funded structural investment.
This document provides a brief overview of how the challenges and opportunities faced by Austria are addressed by the RDP. In the annex, a table indicates the priorities and focus areas with their specific targets, and their allocated budget.
1. Situation and key challenges
Austria covers an area of 83 879 km² of which almost 80% is rural. Of the total area, 32% is agricultural land while forests cover 44 %. The total population is 8.4 million – of which 66 % live in rural areas.
The unemployment rate in Austria is 5.1% (Nov 2014), which is one of the lowest in the EU.
Austrian agriculture is characterized by small-scale structures where farming is difficult. To improve the competitiveness of these farms will be one of the key challenges in this programming period.
87% of farm holdings are located in mountain areas and areas facing natural or other specific constraints. To support these farmers in continuing farming and thus guaranteeing their living conditions will be another challenge.
Although Austria undertook big efforts in the field of environment in the last two programming periods, there is scope for improvement. Biodiversity is still declining and there are regions where emissions are too high and the groundwater quality goes beyond the thresholds.
Rural depopulation is an increasing problem in Austria and regions are more and more facing the negative effects of this development.
2. How the Austrian RDP will address these challenges
In order to foster the competitiveness of the agriculture sector further, the RDP puts particular emphasis on investments contributing to environmental and climate objectives. In this context, innovation, as a cross-cutting objective, is an integral part of the Austrian RDP. It plays an important role in linking the highly prioritised environment and climate objectives with the competitiveness of the agri-food sector, businesses in rural areas, and balanced territorial development contributing to the creation of "green jobs".
One main objective of the RDP is to do more for the preservation of natural resources and cultural landscapes, building on the success of previous schemes. For example, there are measures to help extend the area under organic farming, even though nearly one fifth of Austrian farm area is already organic. Austria has chosen to address this mainly via ensuring sustainable farming management including organic farming and climate actions. Austria aims to improve biodiversity, water and soil management with environmentally friendly management practices, by land use change to more climate-friendly practices.
In addition, Community Led Local Development (CLLD/Leader) are expected to support the balanced territorial development of rural economies and communities, thereby creating jobs and improving living conditions in these areas.
The Austrian Rural Development Programme is centred on all six Rural Development Priorities with the main emphasis given to restoring, preserving and enhancing the ecosystems related to agriculture and forestry (Priority 4). It is foreseen that RDP support will also lead to the creation of more than 800 jobs, most of these being in the most remote and disadvantaged areas and showing negative population trends. The focus of each priority is explained briefly below.
The cross-cutting priority "Knowledge transfer and innovation in agriculture, forestry and rural areas" will help the farm sector and rural businesses to incorporate the results of research and innovation into their production systems. Transfer of knowledge will be provided through training of more than 600 000 participants over the period, mainly farmers. The links between the agricultural production sectors and research will be reinforced through 645 cooperation projects.
Competitiveness of the agricultural sector and sustainable forestry
Farm investments of the pig and cattle sectors aim to restructure 20 000 farms (13 % of the total), simultaneously targeting environment, climate and animal welfare. An important element is innovation, which is facilitated via co-operation, information and knowledge transfer between the agri-food sector, researchers and other stakeholders. More than 600 co-operation projects will be established, while a total number of 600 000 participants will be trained. Participation in the European Innovation Partnership can also be supported under this priority.
Food chain organisation, including processing and marketing of agricultural products, animal welfare and risk management in agriculture
Primary producers will be supported by better integrating them into the agri-food chain through quality schemes (around 45 000 farm holdings), adding value to agricultural products, promoting local markets, short supply chains and producer groups.
Restoring, preserving and enhancing ecosystems related to agriculture and forestry.
Around 61% of the allocated amount will be used for area-based payments to farmers for using environment/climate friendly land management practices, including organic farming. Austria already has the highest proportion of its agricultural area farmed organically of any EU Member State (20%). Additionally, the RDP includes a limited number of highly targeted agri-environmental, climate measures prioritising the most vulnerable areas (for example Natura2000 and High Nature Value areas), and water management. This priority also supports environment/climate friendly farm investments and non-productive investments. The aim is that nearly 80% of the agricultural area will be under contracts of AECM, OF and ANC.
Resource efficiency and climate
The priority is for investments, namely for energy efficiency, emission reduction and renewable energy production on farms and in rural areas. Non-productive investments and changes in land use from arable land to extensive farming areas will also be supported. Environmental efforts in forestry will be encouraged as well, with over 1 000 investment project foreseen for developing and improving the viability of forests.
Social inclusion and local development in rural areas
This priority is implemented entirely by the “bottom-up” approach through Local Development Strategies drawn up by the expected 75 Local Action Groups (LAGs). Investments in the food processing sector, in business start-ups and in basic services will only be supported within the scope of the Local Development Strategies. The focus is on growth and jobs in addition to improving living conditions in rural areas, particularly via business development, innovation and co-operation. 5.5% of the RDP public support has been earmarked for Community Led Local Development (CLLD/Leader). The approach will cover 75 % of the rural population creating both jobs – 490 new jobs expected - and improving living conditions.
The five biggest RDP measures in budgetary terms (total public funding) are:
- 2.24 billion EUR allocated for Measure 10 – Agri-Environment Climate Measure
- 1.79 billion EUR allocated for Measure 13 – Payments to areas facing natural or other specific constraints
- 885 million EUR allocated for Measure 4 – investment in physical assets
- 785 million EUR allocated for Measure 11 - Organic farming
- 753 million EUR allocated for Measure 7 – Basic services and village renewal in rural areas