In my community and home state of California, we use a technique called dry farming to make agriculture more sustainable. We grow olives and grapes using dry farming because it helps to improve the quality of the fruit. By not irrigating, we conserve water and produce fruits with richer, more concentrated flavors.
Unlike weather patterns on the East Coast, California relies on a few big rainstorms every year to create the water supply. Instead of raining hard every now and then, as happens in thunderstorms, it rains continuously for a few days every winter. Dry farmers collect water residue from these storms during the rainy season. They are then able to store the moisture in the soil and use it to help nourish their crops throughout the year.
The best soil bases to use for dry farming are sand and clay, since they collect water well. Farmers tend to space crops 8x8 feet or 9x9 feet apart to allow water to maximally reach the harvest.
During the winter, dust mulch is placed over the crops to create a few inches of insulation. This insulation is important to store the rainwater for use during the growing season in the summer. Dust mulch is created by mowing down the leftover, decaying crop and mixing it with soil. This process helps to create the best dry farming growing conditions for the summer months.
However, California is currently experiencing one of the worst droughts in history. There is one third less water available than average, and to date, the total statewide loss in the agriculture industry is 2.2 billion dollars. The lake my family gets our water from, Folsom Lake, is in shrivels, as it’s water level is only at about half capacity. In times like this, even dry farming becomes very difficult to execute. But we haven’t given up hope! Dry farming is still a method that our farmers rely on to grow crops sustainably.
Dry farming is an efficient way to conserve water and make agriculture more sustainable in arid climates!