Dry Farming Collaborative: Adapting to a Changing Climate

In response to escalating concerns about climate change, drought and reduced summer water availability, the Oregon State University Small Farms Program launched the Dry Farming Project in 2014 with support from the USDA National Institute for Food and Agriculture Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program. The project started with a few case studies and demonstrations and over three years grew into the Dry Farming Collaborative. 

The collaborative is a group of farmers, Extension educators, plant breeders and agricultural professionals partnering to increase knowledge and awareness of dry farming management practices. It uses a hands-on participatory approach, employing the knowledge and experience of the agricultural community in identifying and integrating adaptive strategies. The collaborative facilitates farmer-to-farmer information sharing as growers experiment and establish dry farming trials.

Now the OSU Extension Small Farms Program is supporting the collaborative in multiple ways:

  • Facilitating communication and creating space for information sharing. The collaborative's Facebook group has more than 200 members, and its email list has more than 90 members. The university is also involved in field days, winter meetings and coordinating conference presentations with collaborative members.
  • Creating a dry farming resource hub on the OSU Small Farms website. The website includes articles, books, presentations, upcoming events and other resources.
  • Coordinating participatory research. The Small Farms program develops protocols and tools to assist with data collection, sourcing plant material for dry farm trials and distributing to trial hosts.
  • Developing resources to assist growers new to dry farming. An Extension publication series titled Dry Farming in the Maritime Pacific Northwest includes topics such as site assessment and selection, soil preparation and planting, case studies and variety trial reports.

In 2016, 20 Oregon farmers in the collaborative conducted exploratory trials involving site selection and crop varietal choice (tomatoes, potatoes, squash, melon and dry beans), took notes on crop varietal performance, and captured pictures and videos, many shared on the collaborative's Facebook page.

The first winter meeting was held in December 2016, where collaborative members shared results from last year’s trials and discussed future directions for this project. Thirty growers from all over western Oregon have signed up since then to host dry farming trials in 2017 on a total of 12 acres. Collaborative members, including several plant breeders, provided input on the varieties of interest and the following will be replicated across multiple sites this year:

  • Tomatoes (ungrafted and grafted—sponsored by Log House Plants): Big Beef, Early Girl, Dirty Girl, Cour di Bue, Perfect Rogue, Stupice
  • Potatoes: Russet Norkotah, Bintje, Red Pontiac, Ozette, Chieftain, Desiree, Yukon Gold
  • Zucchini: Costata Romanesco, Dark Star, Goldini Zucchini, Genovese, Rugosa Friulana
  • Squash: Lower Salmon River, Hidatsa, Zeppelin Delicata, Winter Sweet, Little Gem
  • Melon: Rich Sweetness, Sweet Freckles, Eel River, Piel de Sappo, Christmas Watermelon
  • Corn: Open Oak Party Mix Dent, Cascade Ruby-Gold, Painted Mountain, Papas Red, Magic Manna
  • Dry Beans: Beefy Resilient Grex, Whipple, Early Warwick, Volga German

Members are concerns about the future of our water supply and agree that exploring alternatives to irrigated agriculture could help sustain their farms. Each member of the collaborative brings expertise and innovations that accelerate collective learning.

Field day details and registration information will be released in the summer edition of Small Farm News.

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