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California’s Drought Could Really Use This Water-Saving Technique

California’s Drought Could Really Use This Water-Saving Technique

Residents of California have been noting something disconcerting when they hit the grocery store this year: it’s a terrible year for stone fruit. Despite the fact that it’s the height of summer, peaches, nectarines, apricots, plums, cherries and their ilk are much more expensive than unusual, and of much poorer quality, too. What’s going on? The answer lies in the state’s extreme drought, which wreaked havoc on numerous crops this year, including stone fruit. The state’s agriculture may be undergoing some major shifts in the coming years thanks to climate change and natural shifts in rainfall levels, and it’s not the only region looking at a drier future.

That’s why some farmers are turning to dry farming, which tackles the problem head on. It utilizes minimal trapped moisture to provide farms with what they need, rather than irrigating, and, astoundingly, it actually produces amazing crops, like tomatoes packed with explosive flavor. Without irrigation, plants don’t load up with water, and the subsequent crop is anything but watered down: It tends to be smaller, but it’s flavorful, intense, and sweet, thanks to days growing in the hot California sun.

Dry farming isn’t anything new, and it wasn’t invented in California. It was widely used throughout the Mediterranean for centuries, as farmers in regions like Greece, Italy and Morocco didn’t have an extensive water supply to rely upon. They were forced to utilize practices that would help the soil retain moisture for crops like olives, and they refined dry farming techniques for their climate. The tactics used in dry farming include taking special care of the soil to help it remain fertile and retain moisture, spacing crops appropriately to reduce competition for limited water supplies, and cultivating crops suited to low-water conditions, including hardy cultivars that send down deep tap roots to access buried water supplies.

80 percent of the water used in California goes to agriculture, while residents in a growing number of cities are living with water restrictions and exhortations to cut down on water use. The state is beginning to see that the real area for resource frugality lies in the agricultural sector, which doesn’t have to use as much water as it does. Dry farming could help the state cut down radically on water usage, reducing the strain on water resources and in turn improving conditions for fish and neighboring states (and countries) fighting over the limited supply of water from the Colorado River.

However, dry farming can’t happen overnight. If farmers just stopped watering their crops, most of them would die. Crops need to be raised from the start with dry farming in mind, and when farmers are growing grapes, olives, fruit trees, and other crops that bear year after year, they need to take time with the transition. Switching over may require them to remove some plants in order to achieve the right spacing, and they’ll have to work their soil well to help it adjust from heavy irrigation (sandy soil that allows for even drainage) to dry farming (rich, loamy soil that retains moisture). As dry farming catches on and consumers get excited about the amazing crops it produces, the agricultural industry may find itself at the forefront of another farming revolution.


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Photo credit: QQ Li.

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7:34PM PDT on Aug 2, 2014

California is on the coast, where limitless water is.

If the government can consider building a long oil pipeling from Canada, then why can't they build a water purification plant, on the cost, hooked to the city water system?

Get the salt out of the water, and you can use it.

People can flush toilets, bath and do laundry in salt water anyway.

They need the salt out to drink it though, and water plants and animals.

I put bath salts in my bath, when that water goes down the drain, it goes to a treatment facility, which supposedly, gets the salt and other contaminants out.

They're so dumb, if they say there's a drought, when they have limitless water off their coast, that they're NOT utilizing.

Look at what some countries have done, while CA complains and the US does nothing...

Saltwater Agriculture: A New Look at Water - CSRwire
Mar 10, 2014 - can grow in deserts and thrive on seawater – now at last coming to light. ... plant in Australia grows an optimized strain of saltwater algae.

Irrigation system can grow crops with salt water (Wired UK)
Wired UK
May 1, 2009 - A British company has created a pipe system that can safely and organically irrigate crops using dirty, salty or even industrial water sources.

Growing food in the desert - The Guardian › Environment › Deser

8:33PM PDT on Jul 29, 2014

Thank you

6:29AM PDT on Jul 28, 2014

We need to get away from "large scale farming" and go back to small sustainable farming. The large farms misuse the land, the soil is void of all nutrients and the plants suffer. They have to use more water and pesticides to support the plants. Small sustainable and organic farming nurtures the soil, conserves water and produces a healthier your local organic farms!

1:05AM PDT on Jul 28, 2014

Thank you for sharing the interesting article.

3:39PM PDT on Jul 27, 2014


8:39AM PDT on Jul 27, 2014


11:21PM PDT on Jul 26, 2014

thanks for the interesting articleee

11:18AM PDT on Jul 26, 2014

Interesting article, thank you!

10:26AM PDT on Jul 26, 2014

a lot of farmers get their facts from seed men (people that sell the seed) so unless you have an eco minded soul ... you are not going to get an old dog to learn new tricks. Many of the farmer's children are not staying with the farm but moving on so basically you are left with corporate / mega farms who have little desire to eco minded over $ . Yes there are some out there but the consumer has to be willing to pay/ be able to afford the raised cost. People need to try to support their local farmer's market. Make sure they are selling what they grow, not just dragging in something from the fruit / veggie exchange (broker). Even if it is just to buy a little, it shows a lot.

2:39AM PDT on Jul 26, 2014


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