Mountain Farmers (Bergbauern). The Alps run through Austria from its eastern to its western border, and mountain farmers therefore have an important position in the rural economic system. Unlike farmers in low-lying regions, they have to tackle tougher living and working conditions, such as a short growing season, the rigours of climate, steep gradients in their land and a disadvantageous situation with regard to transport facilities. The 99,400 (figures from 1994) mountain farms are classified in four grades or zones. Zones one to three are determined by their share of farmland that has a gradient of more than 25 %, zone four farms are made up of more than 40 % of farmland with a gradient of over 50 %. 6,800 Alpine farms in Austria belong to the latter category.
The Austrian state helps compensate for the burdens imposed on farmers by natural conditions and so contributes to the maintenance of settlement in and the functioning of mountain regions. Main sources of income are dairy farming, cattle breeding, forestry, and tourism.
The highest-lying permanent settlements are in the Austrian Central Alps and lie above the treeline: The village of Obergurgl in the Oetztal Valley has an altitude of 1,927 m, its highest-lying Rofenhoefe farmsteads are at 2,014 m. These high altitudes were settled mainly in the 12th and 13th centuries and frequently had to be abandoned later, but they have continued to be used as alpine pastures (Alm). Their livelihood depends mainly on stock farming. Alpine farming regions have always been secluded and Alpine farmers generally adhere more firmly to traditions in agricultural methods, clothing, common practice and custom.
Literature#E. Hubatschek, Bauernwerk in den Bergen: Arbeit und Leben der Bergbauern in Bilddokumenten aus einem halben Jahrhundert, 1992.