As the drought is becoming more and more impactful on California’s agriculture, farmers are turning to unique methods in order to keep growing their crops. Water scarcity is increasing by the day, and farmers are scrambling for solutions. One of these methods is known as “dry farming”, a technique that has been around for thousands of years.
Dry farming basically explains itself. There is essentially no irrigation used whatsoever, with farmers purely relying on the moisture already trapped within soil. Therefore, farmers look for high quality soil that can retain moisture in an area that gets at least 10 to 20 inches of rainfall per year. Although these parameters might be hard to find in some areas, farmers in northern and coastal regions of California, from Napa to Santa Barbara, have found this method of agriculture to be effective.
Although one might be skeptical of this approach, saying that relying on soil moisture is not enough to allow a crop to grow, farmers have proved time and time again that dry farming works. By spacing out crops, and allowing root structures to spread and reach moisture within the dirt, plants are able to flourish without irrigation. Farmers have used dry farming techniques for crops such as olives, apples, grapes, watermelons, a variety of grains, and tomatoes – just to name a few.
There are some downsides to dry farming, however. Firstly, one can not guarantee a plentiful yield on dry farmed crops every year. With soil composition constantly changing, and moisture levels completely dependent upon the environment, the amount of crops coming out of a farm every year will change. Secondly, with less water being used, the size of the crops may vary, such as a smaller size – but more concentrated taste – in apples. Lastly, dry farmed plots of agriculture take longer to develop, due to the root structures of plants needing to spread out and establish themselves before then can yield produce.
Despite the obstacles that dry farming presents, farmers have been very successful in recent years with dry farming techniques. There are even farmers that have been dry farming before the drought was impacting agriculture, such as Stan Devoto, who as been using this agricultural practice since 1970. Although these farmers may face challenges regarding dry farming, communities can team up and share their knowledge to increase their crop’s yields. This method of agriculture can become widespread and be at least part of the solution to farming during California’s water shortage.