Agriculture In Austria Hungary Who Owned Most Of The Farmland

Food became a scarce – and thus decisive – resource for the Habsburg Empire’s warfare. Agricultural production in Austria-Hungary dramatically deteriorated due to causes more or less related to the war. The consumers’ shrinking food supply reflected not only the declining amount of foodstuffs available to the Habsburg Empire, but also their unequal distribution at state, provincial, regional and local levels. Everyday struggles for food fostered the fragmentation of wartime society – with effects that lasted far beyond the war period.

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During the First World War food became a scarce – and thus decisive – resource for the Habsburg Empire’s warfare, with regard to the armed forces as well as the people on the “home front.” While the historiography has evaluated the food crisis as a key factor of Austria-Hungary’s military, economic and political breakdown,<1> for contemporaries this was rather surprising. Prior to the war the Dual Monarchy was normally self-sufficient in basic foodstuffs; substantial imports were only necessary in the case of bad harvests. In order to assess the wartime food crisis, three areas along the agro-food chain have to be taken into account: production, distribution and consumption. This article’s regional focus is mostly on the Austrian half of the monarchy but will compare with the Hungarian part whenever possible.

Food Production↑

Agricultural production in Austria-Hungary dramatically deteriorated during the war (Table 1). The agricultural component of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), i.e. the total value of marketed agricultural products and services, from 1913 to 1917 decreased from 9,430 to 5,639 million Kronen in absolute terms or by 40 percent in relative terms. Compared to the Hungarian part of the Dual Monarchy (-34 percent), the contraction proved to be even more severe in the Austrian part (-48 percent). According to the figures of selected crops, both components of arable production – acreage and yields per hectare – decreased during the war (Tables 2 and 3). However, considerable regional differences emerged: acreage declined by nearly one half in Austria, yet it was quite stable in Hungary. Although both territories experienced declining yields per hectare, the shortfalls were more dramatic in Austria than in Hungary. For instance, the loss in bread grain yields 1913 to 1917 amounted to 38 percent for wheat and 44 percent for rye in Austria compared to 20 percent for wheat and 19 percent for rye in Hungary. The deterioration of agricultural resources affected the livestock as well, especially in Austria where there were declining numbers of cattle (-20 percent), pigs (-61 percent) and sheep (-15 percent) 1910 to 1917.

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<2> Military concentration areas experienced even more dramatic losses. In Tyrol near the south-western frontline, for instance, farming families were heavily hit by military requisitions.

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<3> Despite regional differences, the Habsburg Empire’s agro-systems lost much of their performance during the war period.


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