Dry farming – Climate change is turning the earth upDry Farming
side down, causing lakes to dry up and sea levels to rise.
Farmers in the West have been compelled to experiment with dry farming due to a lack of appropriate water supply.
So far, it has been effective, but it will not solve agriculture’s problems.
But, because it relies less on finite natural resources, it has provided a path ahead for smaller-scale producers.
As a result, dry-farmed food is frequently physically smaller, and harvests are less abundant.
Nonetheless, dry farming can provide longer-lasting and more flavorful food.
How does it work?
The first notion that comes to mind, and one that is widely held, is that dry farming is a way of cultivating plants without the need of water.
Amy Garrett, head of the nonprofit Dry Farming Institute in Corvallis, Oregon, reminded us that nothing grows without water.
Instead of being sprayed on, dry-farmed plants absorb moisture from the earth.
The novel agricultural approach is feasible in states throughout the West, but it requires the rainy season since precipitation is absorbed into the soil.
A subsequent dry growth season permits plant roots to draw in moisture.
Dry farming may be used to cultivate a variety of fruits and vegetables, including:
The approach varies from rain-fed agriculture in that crops grow without irrigation throughout the wet season.
Yet, certain variables are required for dry farming to be efficient.
Water policy director for the Community Alliance with Family Farmers in California, David Runsten, stated:
“You need to be in a place where there’s sufficient rainfall to create moisture in the soil.”
Farmers who want to try dry farming must utilize a variety of ways to keep their crops wet.
They will, for example, need to plant early in the season to take advantage of soil moisture from winter rains.
Farmers must also plant extensively to allow roots to look for water.
Farmers can also plant young seedlings in furrows, reducing wind drying and adding an insulating layer of mulch above the soil.
Beyond the West
Dry farming is popular in various places of the world, from the Mediterranean’s olive groves to Botswana’s melon fields to Chile’s vineyards.
Dry farming has been done by indigenous peoples in the American West for thousands of years.
“Dry farming is just farming – it’s our way of life,” said Michael Kotutwa Johnson.
Johnson is a Hopi Tribe member and an Indigenous resilience expert at the University of Arizona in Tucson.
He dry-farms maize and lima beans, something he learnt from his grandpa.
Johnson explained how the deep understanding of the natural environment required for dry farming aligns with the Hopi community’s ideals and spiritual beliefs.
“You get to really learn what the environment gives you, and you learn to reciprocate,” he said, noting that a relationship between the cropping system and farmer develops.
“It’s a beautiful thing, and it’s something that needs to be cherished.”
The method through history
When non-Indigenous people first came to the West, they began dry farming.
Commercial farmers, on the other hand, relied on irrigation to meet the demands of expanding markets throughout the 20th century.
According to Jay Lund, deputy director of the University of California’s Institute for Watershed Studies, farmers now have more control over water on demand, allowing them to improve productivity.
“They could have a lot more reliable crop yields, and much higher crop yields,” he said.
Water irrigation, on the other hand, is in low supply throughout the West today.
Water is extracted from deep aquifers and transported through canals and pipes before being dumped on crops in locations like California’s San Joaquin Valley.
Experts assume that more than a quarter of irrigation water is wasted during transportation due to leaks and evaporation.
Another big issue in the region is that water is being withdrawn quicker than it is being replaced.
“There just isn’t sufficient water for the amount of farmland that’s been planted,” said Runsten.
Access to irrigation is currently restricted.
Farmers in other states are presently experiencing water shortages and have been forced to abandon irrigation.
According to Runsten, the situation is unlikely to improve very soon.
The future of dry farming
While dry farming has environmental benefits, farmers are still skeptical.
Alex Stone, a horticulturist at Oregon State University, discovered that producers in the area are wary of the method, even when planting popular kinds.
Early Girl tomatoes, for example, are extensively dry-farmed in California for supermarkets and farmer markets.
“They just see them as elite, expensive, small tomatoes,” said Stone.
Dry farming is also a viable option if water resources grow more uncertain.
Researchers concede, however, that it is not a one-size-fits-all response to climate change.
Crops that flourished without irrigation, for example, may struggle in the future.
“As summers become hotter and drier, crops will require even more water as they will lose more water [through evapotranspiration], making dry farming riskier,” said Stone.
Image source: Plantix