Dry Farming Collaborative: Innovating and adapting to a changing climate

In response to escalating concerns about climate change, drought, and reduced summer water availability, the OSU 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 small with a few case studies and demonstrations, and has had a growing impact over the past three years leading to the establishment of the Dry Farming Collaborative (DFC) in 2016.

The DFC is 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. This bottom-up approach employs the knowledge and experience of the agricultural community in identifying adaptive strategies while simultaneously assessing and integrating them on the ground. 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.

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

  • Facilitating communication and creating space for information sharing: DFC Facebook group (200+ members), email list (90+ members), field days, winter meeting and coordinating conference presentations with DFC members.
  • Creating dry farming resource hub on the OSU Small Farms website: Will include articles, books, presentations, upcoming events, and other resources.
  • Coordinating participatory research: Developing 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: ‘Dry Farming in the maritime Pacific Northwest’ extension publication series is underway and will begin with topics such as site assessment and selection, soil preparation and planting, case studies, and variety trial reports (expected release will begin in 2018).

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

The first winter meeting was held in December 2016, where DFC 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. DFC 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

Many DFC members will also be conducting exploratory trials with other crop varietals and various management practices. More than 10 sites will also be hosting tours for our field days in August, which will be the focus for the 2017 Growing Resilience: Water Management Workshop Series (supported in part by Western SARE).

DFC members share concerns about the future of our water supply and agree that exploring alternatives to irrigated agriculture is a necessity for the sustainability of their farms. Each member of the DFC brings expertise and innovations, which accelerate collective learning. Join us for our field days in August to see what these crops and management practices look like in the field!

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

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