Agriculture at the limit

At 1200 metres above sea level, on the western slope of the Zirbitzkogel in Austria, lies the Steinbrugger family farm. A close-up look at an agricultural “combat zone.”

January 22, 2018

In Neumarkt in southeastern Austria, Josef Steinbrugger runs a mountain farm that has undergone dramatic transformations in the last few decades. His father Karl, retired but still active on the farm, started it 50 years ago. But much has changed since then.

Organic above all
“50 years ago he had 18 head of cattle. Now we have over 50,” reports Josef Steinbrugger. “17 are milch cows, and we also raise steers here.”
The farm turns out almost 100,000 litres of milk annually. Pick-up is every other day. 42 hectares of land are under cultivation, of which 6 are leased. “We have about half forest and half field and meadow,” says Steinbrugger. “I’ve been an organic farmer since February 2016, not using herbicides, pesticides or artificial fertilizer,” he adds proudly. “And the certifiers check very thoroughly.”

Specialization is a necessity
“We specialize in organic milk and meat, which command higher prices,” says Steinbrugger of the change in business focus. The quality seal of an Austrian supermarket chain helps in marketing. “With the increased regulations, we had to stop doing slaughtering and selling direct from the farm,” he continues. “Unfortunately, the regulatory burden is pushing things more and more in the direction of agribusiness. But the small farmers make a big contribution to maintaining the landscape of this popular recreational area.”

Development partner
Some time ago Steinbrugger had decided to add a small spreader to the machine park, and had his eye on a Farmtech competitor. But his brother Hubert, who heads to workshop at local Farmtech dealer Steinkellner, put him into contact with Farmtech. “They made us a great price on a new, fully galvanized Superfex 700,” says Steinbrugger. Farmtech Development Head Thomas Fössl explains: “We wanted to keep an eye our first machine, and I only live a few kilometres away from the Steinbruggers.”

Highly satisfied
“The machine is a dream,” says Josef Steinbrugger with great satisfaction. “We love the spread pattern and distribution precision. The axle is far in the back, so the hook weight is quite OK on steep slopes with low load,” he adds in reference to the trailer’s off-road capabilities. But naturally he has a few suggestions for improvement: “The scraper floor is too fast on steep slopes.” According to Fossl, a larger oil engine for slower speeds could be the answer. “The rear flap could open faster though. A indicator visible on the side for the rear flap opening would be nice.” Thomas Fössl writes it all down and will take some homework back to his designers.

A look ahead
When the talk turns to the future, Josef Steinbrugger thinks a minute. “We’re absolutely satisfied with how things are now. Up here, there’s not more we can do.” But without help, new investments won’t be possible. “Agriculture at this altitude is not economically viable without subsidies. Without alternative marketing channels, we wouldn’t be able to make it. So the question remains, what will happen after the end of this subsidy period. It would be nice if the profession of farmer could regain a little more respect,” says Steinbrugger in conclusion, before he drives his tractor out the farmyard entrance.