Drought-Stricken Farmers Take to Ancient Practice of Dry Farming to Sustain Their Crops

Can the Mediterranean practice save U.S. farmers from the worst drought in decades?
Dry farming sustains crops of drought-stricken farmers. (Photo: Russ Barnes/Getty Images)
Aug 26, 2012· 1 MIN READ
A Bay Area native, Andri Antoniades has previously worked as a fashion industry journalist and a medical writer.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently declared that our nation’s current drought crisis―our worst in decades―has rendered over half of all U.S. counties “disaster areas.” Farmers and ranchers nationwide are scrambling to cover rising feed costs, lowered crop production, and deteriorating crop quality. According to a report on Alternet.org, a few of those struggling farmers in California are turning to an ancient practice of dry farming to sustain their crops.

The California Agricultural Water Stewardship Initiative (CAWSI) says dry farming goes back thousands of years, when Mediterranean countries first adopted it to produce harvests of grapes and olives. Simply put, it’s the process of producing crops by relying only on the residual moisture in the soil.

David Little of Little Organic Farm, explained to Alternet that the success of dry farming lies entirely in its preparation. Following winter and spring rains, dry farmers compact the soil’s top layer to form a dry crust and seal in water, preventing evaporation.

“It’s very challenging because you have to hold the moisture for long periods of time, and you don’t know how different crops are going to react in different areas.”

MORE: Candy for Cows: One Rancher's Drought-Desperate Solution

California may have a leg up on dry farming, as it’s a state well-acquainted with drought conditions. Stan Devoto, an apple farmer, and owner of Devoto Gardens, told Alternet his reason for dry farming was pretty simple: “There’s just not enough water in West [Sonoma] County to water orchards. Pretty much all the orchards are dry-farmed.”

Despite Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack's reported refusal to comment on the link between the drought and global warming, the need for farmers to evolve their methods for continued dry conditions seems imminent at this point.

Do you think dry farming is a viable option to sustain farmers during the drought? What other ways could we be exploring to keep farmers in business? Let us know in the comments.