EM 9229, Dry Farming in the Maritime Pacific Northwest: Intro to Dry Farming Organic Vegetables

New! This 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.

About Dry Farming Project...

It is important to note that dry farming is not a new way of farming, but knowledge sharing has been limited because practices have primarily been passed down from farmer to farmer. Compounded by the fact that there is only a very small subset of farmers that experiment with dry farming and an even smaller number have extensive experience in these farming practices, the OSU Extension Dry Farm Project plans to explore, revive, and expand awareness of dry farming.

The Dry Farming Project began in 2013 with case studies of farms in Western Oregon and Northern California (coordinated by Community Alliance with Family Farmers) that dry farm a variety of fruit and vegetable crops. These case studies revealed a suite of management practices that support crop production without supplemental irrigation including: careful timing of tillage, keeping soil surface loose to conserve moisture in the root zone (also know as dirt or dust mulch), improving soil quality and water retention with organic matter addition (cover crops, compost, rotational grazing), increased plant spacing, and use of drought-resistant varieties.

There have been dry demonstrations in Western Oregon every year since 2015.

In 2016 the Dry Farming Project expanded to include:

  1. Three dry farming demonstration and field days at OSU Extension research locations in Western Oregon.
  2. Ten on-farm trials throughout Western Oregon.
  3. Growing Resilience: Water Management Workshop Series (funded in part by Western SARE) was organized to increase our knowledge and awareness of how Oregon growers are being affected by drought, expand our toolbox of drought mitigation tools and strategies, and educate agricultural producers and professionals about management practices and strategies for farming with little or no irrigation.
  4. Dry Farming Collaborative - a group of farmers, extension educators, plant breeders, and agricultural professionals partnering to increase knowledge and awareness of dry farming management practices with a hands-on participatory approach. The original function of the DFC was to facilitate farmer-to-farmer information sharing as growers started to experiment and establish their own dry farming trials

Resources

Handouts

Soil Survey Resources for Small Farms: Learning about the different types of soils on a farm is invaluable. Oregon alone has nearly 1,000 different kinds of soil, ranging from deep to shallow, clayey to sandy, nearly level to steeply sloping. These differences are important, because different soils require different kind of management practices. 

Intro to Dry Farming Handout - This double-sided handout lays out the basics of dry farming including key practices such as site selection & assessment, soil preparation, planting timing & technique, surface protection, and crop varietal selection.

Dry Farm Tomato Handout - This double-sided handout gives an overview of how dry farm tomato production is different than irrigated production, and some of the key considerations for planting and management, as well as a few frequently asked questions.

Reports

New! 2016 - 2018 Dry Farming Collaborative Variety Trial Report (Draft) - See variety trial results compiled from more than 20 DFC sites. Multiple varieties of dry beans, flour corn, winter squash, tomato, melon, and zucchini were included.

2015 Dry Farming Demonstration Report - This report highlights what was done and the results for the first  demonstration of dry farming vegetables in Corvallis at the OSU Oak Creek Center for Urban Horticulture.

2016 Dry Farming Trial Report - This report details the methods and results for the 2016 dry farming demonstration which included two irrigated plots and two dry farmed plots (tomatoes, potatoes, squash and melon). One of the dry farmed plots was amended with a bokashi biochar compost.

2017 Dry Farming Collaborative Trial Reports

  • Oak Creek Center for Urban Horticulture - Includes methods and results for a tomato trial that included both grafted and ungrafted tomatoes in irrigated and dry farmed treatments. Also, the beginnings of effort to do participatory plant breeding for dry farmed systems is documented with a dry bean variety called 'Beefy Resilient Grex' from plant breeder Carol Deppe of Fertile Seeds.
  • Lewis Brown Farm - The OSU Lewis Brown dry farm trial site is .69 acres and has multiple varieties of tomatoes, squash, melon, zucchini, dry beans, and flour corn. This is the first year this field has been dry farmed and intended to be the ‘mother trial’ for the 2017 replicated variety trials with the Dry Farming Collaborative (DFC). Thirty DFC farms throughout Western Oregon and Washington are growing some of the same crop varietals. Note: This site had major issues with symphylans and cucumber beetles, so data in this reports reflects our results given those issues.

Websites

California Ag Water Stewardship Initiative - The California Agricultural Water Stewardship Initiative (CAWSI) aims to raise awareness about approaches to agricultural water management that support the viability of agriculture, conserve water, and protect ecological integrity in California.

Articles

Dry Farming Project Continues to Expand - Oregon Small Farm New article highlights the multiple research projects engaging with the Dry Farming Collaborative in 2018

The Dry Farming Collaborative: Co-creating the future of how we manage water on our farms - This article in the Rural Connections magazine aims to raise awareness about the Dry Farming Collaborative DFC) and it's importance to sustainable agriculture in the maritime Pacific Northwest by providing a brief overview of dry farming, a timeline of the OSU Dry Farming Project, it's evolution into the DFC, and potentials for the future.

Innovations in Dryland Farming - This article by Kym Pykorny in Oregon's Agricultural Progress highlights how we examples of how we are growing food with far less water in Eastern and Western Oregon.

Common Misconceptions and Key Points About Dry Farming: Case Study of Dry Farmer with More than 40 Years of Experience - A 2014 case study of a grower who farmed in CA without any form of irrigation for 40 years before retiring to 9.6 acres in Veneta, OR in 2007 where he now farms with no water rights.

Dry Farming Vegetables: One Farmer's Approach to Building Soil, Conserving Water, and Producing Great Tasting Tomatoes - A 2013 case study of Jeannie Berg, a fruit and vegetable grower in Monmouth, OR.

Extension Publications

Dryland Farming in the Northwestern United States: A Non-technical Overview - This publication  discusses and describes the process of dryland grain farming, specifically in the Pacific Northwest.

Advances in Dryland Farming in the Inland Pacific Northwest - Farmers make tough decisions all the time—it comes with the territory. When that territory includes the dryland region of the inland Pacific Northwest, decisions can be even more challenging. Fluctuating weather, varying soils, and changing pest pressures are just a few of the ongoing challenges that farmers in this region face. However, university-driven research in these production areas can provide guidance. Packed with tools, resources, and the most current research, this book supports farmers as they make decisions relating to productivity, resilience, and their bottom lines.

Videos and Presentations

OSU Extension Water Management Workshop Series - This workshop series, funded by an Oregon SARE Mini-Grant, focused on drought mitigation tools and management practices for farming with little or no irrigation. Videos and course materials from this series  are available free online.

Video - Adapting to a Changing Climate: Conserving Water with Dry Farming Management Practices

Dry Farming Collaborative: Initial Findings from Qualitative Interviews

  • Benton County Extension, September 5, 2018

Dry Farmed Orchard Systems: Production, Practices, and the Story of Knowledge Transfer

  • 2018 Oregon Small Farms Conference

Dryland Winter Squash Production and Storage Results (Alex Stone)

  • Roseburg Dry Farming Forum, January 2018

Dry Farming in Western Oregon

  • Roseburg Dry Farming Forum, January 2018

Dry Farming Collaborative: Participatory Climate Adaptation Research

  • Northwest Climate Conference, Tacoma, WA, October 2017.

Dry Farming in the maritime Pacific Northwest

  • International Master Gardener Conference, Portland, July 2017.

Dry Farming Collaborative: Co-creating the future of how we manage water on our farms

  • PDF | video

  • Climate Impacts to Water Conference, Jan 2016; Organicology, Feb 2016.

 

Dry Farming Vegetables

  • North Willamette Horticulture Society Meeting, Jan 2016; InFARMATION, Jan 2016.

 

Growing without Irrigation

  • PDF | video

  • Oregon Small Farms Conference, Feb 2016.

Participatory Plant Breeding for Dry Farmed Systems

  • Oregon Small Farms Conference, Feb 2016.

Books
  • Gardening When it Counts - Steve Soloman helps readers rediscover traditional low-input gardening methods to produce healthy food.
  • Gardening Without Irrigation: or Without Much Anyway - Gardening expert Steve Solomon has written extensively on gardening techniques for the home gardener. Water conservation is the focus of this work, along with more information on how to have the healthiest plants in your garden through "fertigation", appropriate plant rotation, and soil preparation. (Summary by Brenda Price)
  • Water-Wise Vegetables - This book shows how to grow a lush, productive vegetable garden with minimal watering. Author Steve Solomon includes information on irrigation, mulching, site and seed selection, and explanations of how plants use water and how to prepare soil for effieient water usage.
  • Growing Vegetables West of the Cascades - Evolved from a self-published pamphlet to the master guide to organic vegetable gardening, this book by Steve Solomon includes updates on latest findings on seed sources, refinements in growing and cultivation techniques, and other organic gardening best practices. Chapter 5 is on water and discusses some considerations for growing without irrigation.
  • The Resilient Gardener: Food Production and Self-Reliance in Uncertain Times - Scientist and expert gardener Carol Deppe draws from emerging science in many fields to develop the general principles of gardening for resilience. Gardeners will learn through Deppe's detailed instructions on growing, storing, and using the five crops central to self-reliance: potatoes, corn, beans, squash, and eggs.
  • Growing Food in a Hotter, Drier Land: Lessons from Desert Farmers on Adapting to Climate Uncertainty - Gary Paul Nabhan is one of the world's experts on the agricultural traditions of arid lands. For this book he has visited indigenous and traditional farmers in the Gobi Desert, the Arabian Peninsula, the Sahara Desert, and Andalusia, as well as the Sonoran, Chihuahuan, and Painted deserts of North America, to learn firsthand their techniques and designs aimed at reducing heat and drought stress on orchards, fields, and backyard gardens.
  • Dry Farming: A System of Agriculture for Countries Under Low Rainfall - A 1911 text about dry farming including information on dry farming conditions, soils, root systems, soil water storage, evaporation & transpiration, crops, and cultivation implements. Available free online.