Cereal production and types of cereals in Austria

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Photo: BMLRT / Alexander Haiden

Austria has some 1.35 million hectares of arable land and cereal production represents the focus of domestic plant production.

Arable land

Arable land in Austria extends over 1.35 million hectares, which corresponds to nearly 50% of the nation's land available for agriculture, which totals 2.73 million hectares, and most of it can be found in the eastern parts of the country whereas grassland predominates in the west.

The main focus in domestic plant production is the cultivation of cereals, which uses an area of 780,000 hectares (including maize).

In cereal growing, winter cereals are distinguished from summer cereals:

Winter cereals are planted in autumn (as of September) and, depending on crop growth and weather conditions, harvested as of mid-June in the following year. Due to the longer period of growth and thanks to winter humidity, winter cereals bring in higher yields than summer cereals. Unlike summer cereals, winter cereals need exposure to cold as a stimulus to induce the flowering process and seed production (vernalisation).

Summer cereals are sown in spring and need only a couple of months before they are ready to harvest. On account of climate change and the tendency of summers to be hot and dry, summer cereal crops in Austria are declining.

Nearly all types of cereal in Austria – with the exception of maize - have winter and summer varieties.

Common wheat

Owing to the favourable growth conditions, wheat is the main crop grown in Austria, followed by maize. Common wheat is cultivated on 280,000 hectares and has an average yield of 5.5 tonnes/ hectare, resulting in an average annual production of 1.6 million tonnes.

In Austria, traditional areas for the cultivation of quality wheat are found in central and eastern Lower Austria as well as in northern and central Burgenland. In terms of climate, this region is designated a Pannonian climate zone. This region's deep soils that are rich in humus positively affect wheat quality. Although yields are lower than in the Alpine foothills (western Lower Austria and Upper Austria) due to the lack of water, Pannonian wheat is particularly suitable for baking and marketed far beyond the country's borders (quality wheat region).

In western Lower Austria, in Upper Austria and in the remaining cultivation areas, yields are higher whereas quality is somewhat lower than in the Pannonian region; in average years, good milling wheat quality is produced there (milling wheat region).

Wheat quality is determined by the variety used and by environmental factors, soils, fertilisation and climate.

Maize

In Austria, maize is the second most important crop after wheat. Every year, maize is grown on roughly 300,000 hectares, of which some 200,000 hectares are planted with grain maize. Average hectare yields for grain maize amount to 10 t/hectares, which is formidable by global standards. Owing to the favourable climate and soil conditions, maize can be cultivated in many regions of Austria. The main areas of cultivation are found in the Federal Provinces of Lower Austria, Upper Austria and Styria. Due to the many different uses it can be put to, maize is amenable to a broad range of products.

In Austria, grain maize is distinguished from silo maize.

With grain maize, the plant is left on the field and only the corn cobs are harvested; the grains constitute the harvested product. With silo maize, the plant is harvested and silaged as a whole. Silo maize is used as animal feed and for biogas production. Wet maize, which is freshly harvested maize, is used for industrial purposes (to produce citric acid, starch and bioethanol).

Maize is a summer cereal sown from the beginning of April to the beginning of May when the danger of a late frost is over. In regions where the climate is more temperate, grain maize is reaped as early as at the end of September, although the lion's share is not harvested until late, to end of, November. Nonetheless, the moisture content of the grains – depending on weather conditions in autumn – is sometimes relatively high, making it necessary to dry the maize (expensive). Durability of the grains is warranted when their moisture content does not exceed 14%. The price for wet maize is based on a basic moisture content of 30%, the price for grain maize on a basic moisture content of 14%. Silo maize is harvested at the end of September and must exhibit a certain moisture content.

Barley

In barley production, winter barley is distinguished from summer barley. Winter barley is planted from September to the beginning of October and turns out higher yields. It is less demanding in terms of soil quality than summer barley, since it is better able to utilize the humidity of the winter and nutrients are taken up over a longer period of time. Summer barley is planted in early spring. Unlike winter barley, summer barley is relatively demanding in terms of soil requirements owing to its low-performance root system.

Winter barley is chiefly used as animal feed and, compared to summer barley, produces larger yields and is richer in protein. Summer barley is primarily used for brewing purposes. The key quality attribute of malting barley is its low protein level, which reaches no more than between 9.5 and 11.5%. Summer barley cultivation in Austria is declining. In Austria, summer barley is produced on roughly 60,000 hectares, whereas winter barley is produced on an area of some 85,000 hectares.

Other cereals

Rye is mainly cultivated as winter cereal in Austria and rather accommodating in terms of soil and climate requirements. The Waldviertel region is the main area of cultivation. More than half of Austria's rye is produced there. Rye is used for the bread production. Quality attributes of rye are high amylogram viscosity and an acceptable falling number. In Austria, rye grows on roughly 45,000 hectares with average production totalling 200,000 tonnes.

Triticale is a hybrid of wheat and rye grown primarily as a winter crop in Austria and used as animal feed. As a primary product, triticale also lends itself to bioethanol production. Triticale is grown on an average of 50,000 hectares.

Durum wheat is a cereal grown in the dry Pannonian region. In agricultural practice, it is grown as a winter and as a summer crop. Durum wheat is used for the production of noodles and semolina. In Austria, durum wheat is grown on roughly 18,000 hectares and production averages 80,000 tonnes.

Oats are mainly cultivated in the Waldviertel region and used as animal feed. However, Austria also produced quality oats, which are used in the food industry and as special animal feed in horse farming. In Austria, just under 25,000 hectares are planted with oats.

Most of the spelt produced in Austria is organic and used primarily in the food industry. On average, spelt is grown on 15,000 hectares every year.

Further information on cereals and harvest evaluations for the various years can be found on the website of Agrarmarkt Austria.