Although small, the agricultural sector is highly diversified and efficient. Most production is oriented toward local consumption.
Of Austria's total area, about 17% was arable in 1998; meadows and pasturelands constituted another 24%. The best cropland is in the east, which has the most level terrain. Farms are almost exclusively family-owned. Most holdings are small or medium-sized and, in many cases, scattered. As of 1999, agriculture employed 5.3% of the labor force. In 2001, agriculture (together with forestry) contributed 2.2% to Austria's total GDP.
The use of farm machinery has been increasing steadily; 352,375 tractors were in operation in 1998, up from 78,748 in 1957. Austria today uses less land and manpower and produces more food than it did before World War II (1939–45). Better seeding and more intensive and efficient application of fertilizers have helped raise farm yields and have enhanced self-sufficiency in foodstuffs. Agriculture is highly protected by the government; overproduction, especially evidenced by recurring grain surpluses, requires a hefty subsidy to be paid by the government in order to sell abroad at market prices. Nevertheless, the Austrian government has been able to maintain farm income, although Austria has some of the highest food costs in Europe.
Chief crops, in terms of sown area and yield, are wheat, rye, oats, barley, potatoes, and sugar beets. Austria is near self-sufficiency in wheat, oats, rye, fruits, vegetables, sugar, and a number of other items. Major crop yields in 1999 included (in tons) sugar beets, 3,000,000; barley, 1,215,000; wheat, 1,285,000; potatoes, 660,000; rye, 223,000; and oats, 150,000. Vineyards yielded 270,000 tons of grapes crushed for wine.