With climate change causing ongoing drought and warmer temperatures in the West, there’s a critical need to develop alternative methods of producing the many and diverse vegetable crops grown in Oregon.
Droughts translate into decreased summer water, which often causes wells to go dry. As temperatures increase there’s reduced snowpack that melts earlier and leaves less water overall and less during the growing season. With less water comes more interest in strategies that support farming with little or no irrigation.
In response, Amy Garrett, associate professor of practice with the Oregon State University Extension Service Small Farms Program, founded the OSU Dry Farming Project in 2015. Dry farming is the ages-old practice of growing crops with little or no irrigation. Crops typically go in the ground early when there’s still plenty of moisture in the soil to get plants established. As the season wears on, roots stretch deep to harvest the receding water. Cultivar selection, wider plant spacing and soil health are also key aspects of dry farming.
The Dry Farming Collaborative (DFC), a group of farmers, Extension educators, plant breeders and agricultural professionals partnering to increase knowledge and awareness of dry farming, formed out of Garrett’s Dry Farming Project. The Dry Farming Institute, a nonprofit organization that works to engage growers in collectively adapting to less water, also blossomed out of the collaborative.
In early 2021, Garrett and others created new content for the OSU Dry Farming page on the Small Farms website. By winter of 2022, the resources had 3,651 page views, 1,971 users and 1,095 new users. In addition, with more than 2,500 page views, the Dry Farming page ranked third as a top landing page on the Small Farms website.
The annual Dry Farming Collaborative winter meeting expanded and went virtual in 2021, drawing 200 participants from throughout the western United States, reaching people who previously had been unable to attend. The event featured speakers from underrepresented communities throughout the West.
Of the 200 participants at the winter meeting, 45 responded to a post-event evaluation ranking the event 4.5 out of 5, with 78% reporting they planned to do something new or different as a result of attending.
Among other appearances, Garrett served on the planning committee for the Climate Resilience Train-the-Trainer event led by Ashley Rood of the Oregon Climate and Agriculture Network (ORCAN), which had 275 agricultural professions register and 170 participate. Garrett spoke on the development of the Dry Farming Collaborative as a model to initiate and steward a community of practice dedicated to climate adaptation.
Garrett was also selected by graduate student Cassandra Waterman to be the faculty host for her graduate program in the agriculture education program at OSU. Waterman is coordinating dry farming outreach and education and taking the lead as the OSU Dry Farming Project liaison with school garden educators, which is a growing part of the DFC.
OSU Extension dry farming research involves the participation of more than 50 farmers with an array of summer vegetable crops. Researchers are finding that the dry-farm production approach can enhance flavor and storability for consumers. Further, the Dry Farming Collaborative marketing committee developed a product label and worked with the Dry Farming Institute to develop marketing materials and piloted them with 10 farmers in 2021. Garrett said that more recognition in the marketplace could lead to more demand.
The OSU Dry Farming Project continues as the go-to resource for dry farming and model for participatory climate adaptation research as growers throughout the West continue to feel the impacts of drought and seek alternatives to unreliable summer irrigation.