Tiroleans are predominantly pasture farmers—largely of wheat and rye—and livestock breeders, with some dairying and silviculture as well. While agriculture and stock raising have long been dominant, the location of the Tirol—controlling passes between the Mediterranean and transalpine Europe—made commerce an important factor in the economy as well. One of the most important commercial centers of the area historically has been located at Bozen, in South Tirol, since the Middle Ages. There is some mining in the region: coal, iron, lead, zinc, copper, and magnesite. Also important to the modern Tirolean economy are textile mills and some other small, specialized industries, particularly those to do with the tourist trade.
Agriculture is based on the privately owned family farm, ownership of which passed from one generation to the next impartibly, generally along the male line and according to the principle of primogeniture. Noninheriting siblings had three basic alternatives: to stay on as dependents of the heir, if the land was able to support them; to hire themselves out to other farms in the region; or to migrate in search of employment in the lowland towns or beyond. Until recently, agriculture retained its traditional subsistence orientation, but production for market has in the last several decades gained in importance, and nearly all households are now to some degree dependent on cash income.