Flexibilisation of the mowing periods on ecologically valuable land

Topic area
Environment, biodiversity, nature conservation

Disaggregation level
Nature conservation
Climate change adaptation
Education & lifelong learning
Knowledge transfer

Project region
Lower Austria
Upper Austria

LE– Programming Period
LE 14–20

Project period
1.3.2015-2016 (geplantes Projektende)

Project costs overall
74.760 €

Subsidy from LE 14-20
74.760 €

EN - 1.2.1. a) Demonstrationsvorhaben und Informationsmaßnahmen - Landwirtschaft

Project initiator
ÖKL - Österreichisches Kuratorium für Landtechnik und Landentwicklung

Short description

Generally, the participating farmers (ÖPUL-Nature Protection Activities – “ecologically valuable land”) have agreed to have a specified date for mowing.

Since 2015 the farmers can adapt the date for the first mowing to the yearly vegetation development, if their project confirmation sheet indicates the specific code NI40 (àBring forward the date for the first mowing according Through this flexibilisation thousands of Austrian farmers could mow their nature protection land some days earlier than usually. In total, more than 150 farm businesses are involved in this project to contribute with their expertise.

The cocksfoot’s ear emergence and the elderberry’s flowering season (reported by the farmers) are considered the basic indicators for the calculation of the yearly mowing period in Austria.

Point of departure

The specified ÖPUL-requirements for the fixed grass harvesting periods for ecologically valuable farmland do not sufficiently take into account the varying weather conditions and the vegetation’s level of ripeness. The optimum grass harvesting period in terms of growing quality forage can be delayed for 2,3,4, 6 or even more weeks.

Within the last years it has been shown that the optimum ripeness was reached ahead of the scheduled mowing date. This is due to the early vegetation growth. Early ripening had been best observed within the years 2007 and 2014: depending on the region, the emergence of the ears/panicles and the flowering happened about 3 weeks earlier compared to the long-term average. In these cases, the farmers were forced to wait with the mowing until the date that has been stipulated within the project agreement, even if the optimum ripeness level would already have been reached earlier. The result: reduced forage quality and strong resentment among the farmers. In this context, the state government had consequently received a surge of requests and letters of complaint. Furthermore, nature conservation measures were reported to be far less accepted by the farmers then.

It can be expected that the problem of varying harvesting periods will emerge even more strongly in future, due to the progress of the anthropogenic climate change, inducing increasingly warm spring temperatures, strong differences in weather conditions etc..


Targets and target groups

  • Establishment of a well-functioning network for the representatives from the 150 agricultural farms and 10 ecologists, observing the phenology of defined grassland areas. Constant documentation on the cocksfoot’s ear emergence and the elderberry’s flowering season as well as their phenological development. A selection of indicators will be observed throughout the various phenological stages.

  • Provision of simple user-oriented and science-based informative material for the years 2015 and 2016 on the website In this way, the farmers can adapt their grass harvest to the yearly vegetation growth/ development.

  • Ensuring the exchange of information with the BMLFUW, the Chambers of Agriculture, the AMA and the Nature Protection Department of the Provinces in a timely manner.

This project basically targets all farmers working ecologically valuable farmland that have agreed (within the project confirmation) to have a specified date for delayed grass harvesting.

On a country-wide level there are several thousand farms whose ÖPUL project confirmation sheet indicates the specific code NI40, that is not valid for premium purposes (àBring forward the date for the first mowing according to


Project implementation and measures

The „PHÄNOFLEX“-project enables all Austrian farmers who are working ecologically valuable farmland and whose project confirmation sheet indicates the specific code NI40 (àBring forward the date for the first mowing according to to more efficiently operate their farm and to fulfil the environmental criteria for ecologically valuable farmland at the same time.
One project highlight is the active involvement and further qualification of farmers and experts in terms of the phenological nature observation. In this way, both contribute to the flexibilisation of the requirements set for the grassland harvest. 

The farmers observe the ear emergence of cocksfoot and the flowering season of the elderberry and directly report about it on

The specific map, providing information about the ear emergence of cocksfoot on a country-wide level is generated via a modelling software in collaboration with the ZAMG (Zentralanstalt für Meteorologie und Geodynamik). The present map is then compared with the mean-average chart (on the ear emergence of cocksfoot) from the previous years. If the ear emergence currently effects earlier compared to the multiannual average, the grass harvest can be brought forward.

The information about the exact mowing dates for all concerned farms of every region and district in Austria (with the code NI40 indicated in their project confirmation) will be published on in a simple, vivid and timely manner.

An example: Year 2015, District Mödling; If the current ear emergence effects 6 days earlier compared to the date defined within the “Ear-emergence multiannual average chart”, the farmers in the Mödling region can mow their fields up to 6 days earlier. The farmers check the information provided on the platform, and calculate the date of mowing. In this way, the grass harvest can be adapted to the inter-annual variability of vegetation growth.

If the vegetation growth complies with the date defined within the “Ear-emergence multiannual average chart” or is even delayed, the grass harvest must be performed on the specified date indicated within the project confirmation sheet. In this case, it is not allowed to bring the grass harvest forward.


Results and effects

 The „PHÄNOFLEX“ project enables several thousand Austrian farmers to more efficiently operate their farm and to fulfil the environmental criteria for ecologically valuable farmland at the same time. In this way the farms’ operational flexibility is enhanced, a better forage quality can be achieved and the farmers’ satisfaction raises. 


The „PHÄNOFLEX“ project is special throughout Europe : it is characterized by its participatory approach and its remarkable potential for the creation of great acceptance among the farmers. This project closely involves farmers in both, the design and implementation (observation process) of the respective measures. It furthermore provides the necessary tools (agreed with stakeholders and the Austrian Chamber of Agriculture) for the improvement of acceptance regarding the general nature conservation measures.