How COVID-19 pandemic is impacting the Austrian Agricultural Sector

Restrictions in the free movement are deeply compromising the availability of labour force in the fruit and vegetable sector. The growing season has started already or is about to begin, and +/- 3000 workers are needed. Most of them are commuters (daily/weekly) and seasonal workers coming from the eastern European countries (PL, CZ, SK, HU, RO), as well as from outside the EU (Ukraine).
Border controls within the EU are complicating procedures. Workers from outside EU (Ukraine) are not allowed to enter the Union.
Shortage of labour force will strongly impact fruit and vegetable production.

Mid-March – June is the most crucial time for the horticultural business (50-70% of the annual turnover). Currently, essential supply chains are broken – due to restrictions: no selling through building centres, garden centres, flower shops (lockdown) depending on the time of restrictions (some weeks vs some months). That could have a devastating impact on the sector.

Concerning the Austrian dairy sector, there are lots of worries about the access to export markets (especially Italy – spot market). Furthermore, ups and downs on the demand side (panic buying – UHT Milk vs break down of demand from gastronomy) occur.

Meat processing industry in Austria (slaughterhouses) depends to a large extend (80%) on the foreign workforce (commuters from eastern European countries). Any restrictions of free movement at borders will impact the processing chain.

The availability of labour force: a big challenge

Farms and food companies are currently experiencing a labour shortage due to the COVID-19 crisis, which will only worsen shortly.
Because of border closures, many foreign workers cannot enter Austria or return to Austria after staying in their home country. That affects thousands of employees, particularly in the areas of agriculture and forestry, food processing and food retail.

An ONLINE platform for recruiting Harvest Helpers

The problem of harvest helpers is being tackled by supporting farmers and food processors in quickly finding the workers they need. To this extent, The Austrian Chamber of Agriculture (Landwirtschaftskammer Österreichs), with the Federal Ministry of Agriculture, Regions and Tourism and the Austrian Chamber of Commerce, launched an online platform for job placement.

Domestic companies can use the online platform to register the need for workers for urgently required work without obligation. Furthermore, those companies whose workforce is currently not fully utilized can report this on the platform and thereby make it available to other companies. It is also possible to offer own help on farms and processing plants (e.g. students, future farm takeovers, farmers, people with similar interest).

Through the placement of workers, supply-relevant activities – regardless of whether in the field, in wine, fruit or vegetable growing, in animal husbandry, in meat processing – should be carried out accordingly. Then the food supply with local products can be maintained.

So far, 7.000 workers have applied for these jobs.