Dry Farming, an Ancient Practice, Helps Farmers Adapt to Climate Change

Soil Scientist Andy Gallagher demonstrates the different types of soils found in the Willamette Valley at a dry farming event in Philomath, OR. Image: Monica Samayoa /OPB

As climate change continues to alter rainfall and water sources for farmers across the country, some farmers are turning to an ancient farming technique called dry farming to help cope with the changes. As Oregon Public Radio reported, dry farming relies on the moisture that’s stored in the soil from winter rainwater. It’s successful in regions with at least 20 inches of annual rainfall and a summertime climate with cool mornings and warm afternoons: regions found throughout California and Oregon–two states whose farming industries have been affected by climate change.

Managing Water Resources: Farmers in Western states are facing significant water restrictions as a result of decreased rainfall and groundwater depletion and adapting to the restrictions will pose an immense challenge. Additionally, Oregon’s water law has been in place for over 100 years. Its basis is “first in time, first in line” which is why so many new farmers have trouble accessing enough irrigation water for their crops. Farmers who are looking to dry farming see it as a way to cope with increasingly limited irrigation resources and a way to survive years with less rain.

Not a Precise Method: OPR explained that there isn’t a precise recipe for dry farming; there are lots of farmers testing out creative ways to revive dry farming that work for their regions’ weather patterns and soil types. As Petaluma organic farmer David Little explained, each year brings new lessons about the precision of planting and tilling but it’s a challenge he welcomes.

A Tastier Crop: Although dry-farming may not be feasible on a mass scale, the flavor of crops farmed with this technique are said to be very flavorful. As Modern Farmer explained, dry-farmed tomato plants look half-dead by the time the fruit is ripe, but the flavor explodes on the palate. It is the principle of dilution at work: less moisture in the soil means lower water content in the crop, which translates to a more potent flavor.

Why This Matters: Although dry farming uses less water, involves less labor, fewer weeds, and more desirable produce, it produces less food per acre and takes more precise expertise to make successful. But in California where the state’s vineyards are coming under increased risk of climate change, dry farming techniques may provide a solution to combat erratic weather patterns and drought. Some farmers are even welcoming a return to a farming style that’s more intimately connected to the earth rather than one that only rewards yield.


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