Dryland farming is farming without the aid of irrigation and only with the amount of rain fall given by Mother Nature. Dryland farming is typical in arid regions such as Southwestern United States, Mexico, the Middle East, and other regions that are known for growing grains. Dryland farming is practiced in all parts of Australia with the exception of the Northern Territory.
Dryland farming involves the constant assessing of the amount of moisture present or lacking for any given crop cycle and planning accordingly. Dryland farmers know that to financially succeed they have to be aggressive during the good years in order to offset the bad years.
Areas that have precipitation of less than 10 inches per year will need to capture moisture until the cash crop needs it. One method is to use fallow rotation where a cover crop is grown for two seasons leaving crop residue on top of the soil in order to trap the winter snows. Another method is to terrace the fields to prevent runoff. Terracing fields is where the farmer lays out furrows in order to slow down the runoff and erosion.
Eliminating weeds will also conserve ground moisture. Once the optimal moisture level is reached, or will be reached, the seeds are planted at a depth that will maximize the use of the moisture. Farmers increase their chances by using drought– and heat-resistant seeds.
Wind erosion is the leading cause of erosion in dryland farming due to the soil being dry and fallow. Along with reduced/no tilling method for controlling erosion, windbreaks can be built and straw can be spread as mulch.
Dryland farming is practiced in areas that are dry and do not use irrigation. Without the use of dependable irrigation, the risk for crop failure and poor yields are increased especially in a dry year. The farmer must monitor the weather and make decisions based on the amount of moisture that is available in the soil.
Image Caption: An example of dryland farming in the Granada region in Spain. Credit: Jebulon/Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 3.0, 2.5, 2.0 and 1.0)