Dry farming is growing food without irrigation. Dry farmers don’t irrigate their crops ..at least beyond the seedling stage. This is a bit of a generalization as there are several regional and distinct generalizations on this theme. Dry farmers in the mid Atlantic rely on summer rains. Most of the grains from the breadbasket do as well. On the Pacific coast the follow a wet winter and dry summer schedule.
To be sure dry farming provides a small percent of the overall food that is grown. With concerns of climate change and the draining of the aquifers practitioners believe this may be the way of the future. The dry farmers of California don’t want any rain in the summer as this would only cause enhanced weed growth. Surface water is of no use to the crops as dry farmed plants have root systems that run deep, sniffing out water that was left months ago. A by product of this is that the roots absorb”terroir”, adding a complexity, and earthiness to a crops flavour profile.
Many characteristics of dry farmed crops …small size, thick skin, and juicy flesh are also characteristics of their wild relatives. Many dry farmed crops out last regular crops in the root cellar.With dry farming there are hardly any weeds, which amounts to huge labour savings.
California is wine country so what about the grapes? Dry farmed grapes are thought to wine with more intense flavour. Sugars get to develop in concert with the acids and tannins, as they would in a natural situation. The fruits are smaller, with more concentrated flavours, and a high ratio of skins to fruit.
The thing with irrigated farming is that you set the crop up to receive water on a regular basis, the roots don’t go deep. So without water for a few days the plants can become stressed and even die.
There are drawbacks to dry farming. Yields are usually lower and some dry farmed produce like melons must be picked ripe and therefore don’t handle shipping well.
Dry farming …perhaps we will see more of this technique before long.