Portland News

Dry farming provides alternate solution amid climate crisis

Dry farmingClimate change is flipping the world on its head, causing lakes to dry up and sea levels to increase.

Due to a lack of suitable water supply, farmers in the West have been forced to experiment with dry farming.

It has been effective thus far, but it will not address agriculture’s challenges.

Yet, because it relies less on limited natural resources, it has paved the way for smaller-scale manufacturers.

As a result, dry-farmed produce is usually smaller in size, and harvests are less plentiful.

Nevertheless, dry farming can produce more tasty and longer-lasting food.

How does it work?

The first and most frequently held belief is that dry farming is a method of raising plants without the need of water.

Amy Garrett, executive director of the nonprofit Dry Farming Institute in Corvallis, Oregon, reminded us that without water, nothing grows.

Dry-farmed plants receive moisture from the soil rather than being sprayed.

The unique agricultural strategy is possible in all Western states, but it requires the rainy season since precipitation is absorbed into the soil.

During a dry growing season, plant roots may pull in moisture.

Dry farming may be utilized to grow a wide range of fruits and vegetables, including:

  • Corn
  • Potatoes
  • Squash
  • Tomatoes
  • Watermelons

In contrast to rain-fed agriculture, crops thrive without irrigation during the rainy season.

Some factors, however, are essential for dry farming to be efficient.

David Runsten, water policy director for the Community Alliance with Family Farmers in California, stated:

“You need to be in a place where there’s sufficient rainfall to create moisture in the soil.”

Farmers that wish to experiment with dry farming must use a number of methods to keep their crops moist.

They will need to plant early in the season, for example, to take advantage of soil moisture from winter showers.

Farmers should also plant widely to allow roots to seek water.

Farmers can also plant young seedlings in furrows, decreasing wind drying and putting a layer of mulch above the soil for insulation.

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Beyond the West

Dry farming is popular all throughout the world, from the olive groves of the Mediterranean to the melon fields of Botswana to the wineries of Chile.

Indigenous peoples in the American West have practiced dry farming 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 a University of Arizona in Tucson Indigenous resilience expert.

He dry farms corn and lima beans, which he learned from his grandfather.

Johnson stated how the Hopi community’s goals and spiritual beliefs are aligned with the thorough grasp of the natural environment necessary for dry farming.

“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 arrived in the West, they practiced dry farming.

Throughout the twentieth century, commercial farmers depended on irrigation to fulfill the needs of increasing markets.

Farmers now have more control over water on demand, according to Jay Lund, deputy director of the University of California’s Center for Watershed Studies, allowing them to boost output.

“They could have a lot more reliable crop yields, and much higher crop yields,” he said.

Water irrigation, on the other hand, is currently in short supply throughout the West.

In places like California’s San Joaquin Valley, water is collected from deep aquifers and transported through canals and pipes before being deposited on crops.

According to experts, more than one-quarter of irrigation water is lost during conveyance owing to leaks and evaporation.

Another significant difficulty in the region is that water is being extracted faster than it is being restored.

“There just isn’t sufficient water for the amount of farmland that’s been planted,” said Runsten.

Irrigation access is presently limited.

Farmers in other states are currently facing water scarcity and are being forced to forgo irrigation.

Runsten believes that the situation is unlikely to improve very soon.

The future of dry farming

Farmers are still hesitant about the environmental benefits of dry farming.

Alex Stone, an Oregon State University horticulture, revealed that growers in the region are apprehensive of the strategy, even when planting popular varieties.

In California, for example, Early Girl tomatoes are extensively dry-farmed for supermarkets and farmer markets.

“They just see them as elite, expensive, small tomatoes,” said Stone.

Dry farming is also an alternative if water supplies become scarce.

Experts admit, however, that there is no one-size-fits-all solution to climate change.

Crops that thrived in the absence of irrigation, for example, might 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: The Guardian

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