Dryland farming and dry farming are agricultural techniques for non-irrigated cultivation of crops. Dryland farming is associated with drylands; dry farming is often associated with areas characterized by a cool wet season followed by a warm dry season.
Dry farming is not to be confused with rainfed agriculture. Rainfed agriculture refers to crop production that occurs during a rainy season. Dry farming, on the other hand, refers to crop production during a dry season, utilizing the residual moisture in the soil from the rainy season, usually in a region that receives 20” or more of annual rainfall. Dry farming works to conserve soil moisture during long dry periods primarily through a system of tillage, surface protection, and the use of drought-resistant varieties.
Dryland farming locations
Dryland farming is used in the Great Plains, the Palouse plateau of Eastern Washington, and other arid regions of North America such as in the South-western United States and Mexico (see Agriculture in the Southwestern United States and Agriculture in the prehistoric Southwest), the Middle East and in other grain growing regions such as the steppes of Eurasia and Argentina. Dryland farming was introduced to southern Russia and Ukraine by Slavic Mennonites under the influence of Johann Cornies, making the region the breadbasket of Europe. In Australia, it is widely practiced in all states but the Northern Territory.
Dry farmed crops
Dry farmed crops may include grapes, tomatoes, pumpkins, beans, winter wheat, corn, beans, Sunflowers or even watermelon and other summer crops. These crops grow using the winter water stored in the soil, rather than depending on rainfall during the growing season.
Dry farming process
Dry farming depends on making the best use of the “bank” of soil moisture that was created by winter rainfall. Dry farming is not a yield maximization strategy; rather it allows nature to dictate the true sustainability of agricultural production in a region. Dry farming as “a soil tillage technique, is the art of working the soil; starting as early as possible when there is a lot of moisture in the soil, working the ground, creating a sponge-like environment so that the water comes from down below, up into the sponge. You press it down with a roller or some other implement to seal the top…so the water can’t evaporate and escape out.” Some dry farming practices include:
- Wider than normal spacing, to provide a larger bank of moisture for each plant.
- Controlled Traffic
- No-till/zero-till or minimum till
- Strict weed control, to ensure that weeds do not consume soil moisture needed by the cultivated plants.
- Cultivation of soil to produce a “dust mulch”, thought to prevent the loss of water through capillary action. This practice is controversial, and is not universally advocated.
- Selection of crops and cultivars suited for dry farming practices.
While dry farming is not for every grower or every region, it is a promising system of crop management that offers greater crop security in times of uncertain water supply and can offer a higher-quality product.