Dry farming is often described as crop production without irrigation during a dry season, usually in a region that receives at least 20 inches (50 cm) of annual rainfall, and utilizes the moisture stored in the soil from the rainy season. A broader definition of dry farming is a low-input, place-based approach to producing crops within the constraints of your climate. As we define it, a dry-farmed crop is irrigated once or not at all.
Farmers globally are exploring adopting dry farming methods as a climate resilience strategy to cope with less water available for irrigation. Dry farming and various techniques associated with it have deep historical and varied cultural roots. Desert farmers and indigenous peoples around the world have developed techniques for farming with minimal irrigation or rainfall (Nabhan, 2013). Dry farming differs from traditionally irrigated cropping systems in that farmers do not irrigate (e.g. land without water rights or access to irrigation), or only irrigate once in situations where that is an option. Dry farmers try to select a site with deep soil and good water-holding characteristics and then utilize a suite of practices to conserve soil moisture for crop growth. Some of the practices that support dry farming include: early soil prep and planting; selecting drought tolerant, resistant or early-maturing cultivars; lower planting density; cultivation or surface protection to prevent crusting and cracking of soil surface; diligent weed control; and improving soil health and water-holding capacity with practices such as cover cropping, rotation, and minimizing soil disturbance.
Dry Farming in the Maritime Pacific Northwest: Intro to Dry Farming Organic Vegetables – This OSU extension publication provides an overview of dry farming, describes some of the management practices that support growing organic vegetable crops without supplemental irrigation in this region, and offers some additional resources.