Dryland farming
Dryland farming is an agricultural technique for non-irrigated cultivation of drylands
Drylands is a Miles Franklin Award winning novel by Australian author Thea Astley. This novel shared the award with Benang by Kim Scott.-Awards:...



Dryland farming is used in the Great Plains
Great Plains
The Great Plains are a broad expanse of flat land, much of it covered in prairie, steppe and grassland, which lies west of the Mississippi River and east of the Rocky Mountains in the United States and Canada. This area covers parts of the U.S...

, the Palouse
The Palouse is a region of the northwestern United States, encompassing parts of southeastern Washington, north central Idaho and, in some definitions, extending south into northeast Oregon. It is a major agricultural area, primarily producing wheat and legumes...

 plateau of Eastern Washington
Eastern Washington
Eastern Washington is the portion of the U.S. state of Washington east of the Cascade Range. The region contains the city of Spokane , the Tri-Cities, the Columbia River and the Grand Coulee Dam, the Hanford Nuclear Reservation and the fertile farmlands of the Yakima Valley and the...

, and other arid regions of North America, the Middle East and in other grain
Cereals are grasses cultivated for the edible components of their grain , composed of the endosperm, germ, and bran...

 growing regions such as the steppe
In physical geography, steppe is an ecoregion, in the montane grasslands and shrublands and temperate grasslands, savannas, and shrublands biomes, characterized by grassland plains without trees apart from those near rivers and lakes...

s of Eurasia and Argentina
Argentina , officially the Argentine Republic , is the second largest country in South America by land area, after Brazil. It is constituted as a federation of 23 provinces and an autonomous city, Buenos Aires...

. Dryland farming was introduced to southern Russia and Ukraine by Russian Mennonites under the influence of Johann Cornies
Johann Cornies
Johann Cornies was a Mennonite German settler to the Russian Empire.- Biography :Cornies was born in the Vistula delta Mennonite settlement of Bärwalde , near Danzig in West Prussia. He was a son of Johann Cornies and Aganetha Cornies...

, making the region the breadbasket
The breadbasket or the granary of a country is a region which, because of richness of soil and/or advantageous climate, produces an agricultural surplus which is often considered vital for the country as a whole. Rice bowl is a similar term used in Southeast Asia...

 of Russia. In Australia, it is widely practiced in all states but the Northern Territory
Northern Territory
The Northern Territory is a federal territory of Australia, occupying much of the centre of the mainland continent, as well as the central northern regions...



Winter wheat
Winter wheat
Winter wheat is a type of wheat that is planted from September to December in the Northern Hemisphere. Winter wheat sprouts before freezing occurs, then becomes dormant until the soil warms in the spring. Winter wheat needs a few weeks of cold before being able to flower, however persistent snow...

 is the typical crop although skilled dryland farmers sometimes grow corn
Corn is the name used in the United States, Canada, and Australia for the grain maize.In much of the English-speaking world, the term "corn" is a generic term for cereal crops, such as* Barley* Oats* Wheat* Rye- Places :...

, bean
Bean is a common name for large plant seeds of several genera of the family Fabaceae used for human food or animal feed....

s or even watermelon
Watermelon is a vine-like flowering plant originally from southern Africa. Its fruit, which is also called watermelon, is a special kind referred to by botanists as a pepo, a berry which has a thick rind and fleshy center...

s. Successful dryland farming is possible with as little as 9 inches (228.6 mm) of precipitation a year; higher rainfall increases the variety of crops. Native American tribes in the arid Southwest subsisted for hundreds of years on dryland farming in areas with less than 10 inches (254 mm) of rain. The choice of crop is influenced by the timing of the predominant rainfall in relation to the seasons. For example, winter wheat is more suited to regions with higher winter rainfall while areas with summer wet seasons may be more suited to summer growing crops such as sorghum
Sorghum is a genus of numerous species of grasses, one of which is raised for grain and many of which are used as fodder plants either cultivated or as part of pasture. The plants are cultivated in warmer climates worldwide. Species are native to tropical and subtropical regions of all continents...

, sunflower
Sunflower is an annual plant native to the Americas. It possesses a large inflorescence . The sunflower got its name from its huge, fiery blooms, whose shape and image is often used to depict the sun. The sunflower has a rough, hairy stem, broad, coarsely toothed, rough leaves and circular heads...

s or cotton
Cotton is a soft, fluffy staple fiber that grows in a boll, or protective capsule, around the seeds of cotton plants of the genus Gossypium. The fiber is almost pure cellulose. The botanical purpose of cotton fiber is to aid in seed dispersal....



Dryland farming has evolved as a set of techniques and management practices used by farmers to continually adapt to the presence or lack of moisture in a given crop cycle. In marginal regions, a farmer should be financially able to survive occasional crop failures, perhaps for several years in succession. Survival as a dryland farmer requires careful husbandry of the moisture available for the crop and aggressive management of expenses to minimize losses in poor years.


Dryland farming is uniquely dependent on natural rainfall, which can leave the ground vulnerable to dust storms, particularly if poor farming techniques are used or if the storms strike at a particularly vulnerable time. The fact that a fallow period must be included in the crop rotation means that fields cannot always be protected by a cover crop, which might otherwise offer protection against erosion.

Key elements

Capturing and Conservation of Moisture - In regions such as Eastern Washington state, the average annual precipitation available to a dryland farm may be as little as 8.5 inches (215.9 mm). Consequently moisture must be captured until the crop can utilize it. Techniques include summer fallow
Summer fallow
Summer fallow, sometimes called fallow cropland, is cropland that is purposely kept out of production during a regular growing season. Resting the ground in this manner allows one crop to be grown using the moisture and nutrients of more than one crop cycle...

 rotation (in which one crop is grown on two seasons' precipitation, leaving standing stubble and crop residue
Crop residue
There are two types of agricultural crop residues:Field residues are materials left in an agricultural field or orchard after the crop has been harvested. These residues include stalks and stubble , leaves, and seed pods...

 to trap snow, and preventing runoff
Run-off or runoff may refer to:* Surface runoff, the flow of water, from rain, snow melt, or other sources, over land* Runoff model , a mathematical model describing the rainfall-runoff relations of a rainfall catchment area or watershed...

 by terracing
Terrace (agriculture)
Terraces are used in farming to cultivate sloped land. Graduated terrace steps are commonly used to farm on hilly or mountainous terrain. Terraced fields decrease erosion and surface runoff, and are effective for growing crops requiring much water, such as rice...


"Terracing" is also practiced by farmers on a smaller scale by laying out the direction of furrows to slow water runoff downhill, usually by plowing along either countour lines
Contour plowing
Contour plowing or contour farming is the farming practice of plowing across a slope following its elevation contour lines. The rows formed slow water run-off during rainstorms to prevent soil erosion and allow the water time to settle into the soil...

 or keylines
Keyline Design
Keyline design is a technique for maximizing beneficial use of water resources of a piece of land. The Keyline refers to a specific topographic feature linked to water flow...

. Moisture can be conserved by eliminating weeds and leaving crop residue to shade the soil.

Effective Use of Available Moisture - Once moisture is available for the crop to use, it must be used as effectively as possible. Seed planting depth and timing are carefully considered to place the seed at a depth at which sufficient moisture exists, or where it will exist when seasonal precipitation falls. Farmers tend to use crop varieties which are drought and heat-stress tolerant, (even lower-yielding varieties). Thus the likelihood of a successful crop is hedged if seasonal precipitation fails.

Soil Conservation - The nature of dryland farming makes it particularly susceptible to erosion, especially wind erosion. Some techniques for conserving soil moisture (such as frequent tillage to kill weeds) are at odds with techniques for conserving topsoil. Since healthy topsoil
Topsoil is the upper, outermost layer of soil, usually the top to . It has the highest concentration of organic matter and microorganisms and is where most of the Earth's biological soil activity occurs.-Importance:...

 is critical to sustainable dryland agriculture, its preservation is generally considered the most important long-term goal of a dryland farming operation. Erosion control techniques such as windbreak
A windbreak or shelterbelt is a plantation usually made up of one or more rows of trees or shrubs planted in such a manner as to provide shelter from the wind and to protect soil from erosion. They are commonly planted around the edges of fields on farms. If designed properly, windbreaks around a...

s, reduced tillage or no-till, spreading straw (or other mulch
In agriculture and gardening, is a protective cover placed over the soil to retain moisture, reduce erosion, provide nutrients, and suppress weed growth and seed germination. Mulching in gardens and landscaping mimics the leaf cover that is found on forest floors....

 on particularly susceptible ground), and strip farming
Strip farming
Strip cropping is a method of farming used when a slope is too steep or too long, or when other types of farming may not prevent soil erosion. Strip cropping alternates strips of closely sown crops such as hay, wheat, or other small grains with strips of row crops, such as corn, soybeans, cotton,...

 are used to minimize topsoil loss.

Control of Input Costs - Dryland farming is practiced in regions inherently marginal for non-irrigated agriculture. Because of this, there is an increased risk of crop failure and poor yields which may occur in a dry year (regardless of money or effort expended). Dryland farmers must evaluate the potential yield of a crop constantly throughout the growing season and be prepared to decrease inputs to the crop such as fertilizer and weed control
Weed control
Weed control is the botanical component of pest control, using physical and chemical methods to stop weeds from reaching a mature stage of growth when they could be harmful to domesticated plants and livestock...

 if it appears that it is likely to have a poor yield due to insufficient moisture. Conversely, in years when moisture is abundant, farmers may increase their input efforts and budget to maximize yields and to offset poor harvests.

See also

  • International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas
    International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas
    International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas is an Arab center for International Agricultural Research located at Tel Hadya near Aleppo in the Syrian Arab Republic....

  • Sustainable agriculture
    Sustainable agriculture
    Sustainable agriculture is the practice of farming using principles of ecology, the study of relationships between organisms and their environment...

  • Xeriscaping
    Xeriscaping and xerogardening refers to landscaping and gardening in ways that reduce or eliminate the need for supplemental water from irrigation...

  • Irrigation
    Irrigation may be defined as the science of artificial application of water to the land or soil. It is used to assist in the growing of agricultural crops, maintenance of landscapes, and revegetation of disturbed soils in dry areas and during periods of inadequate rainfall...

  • Seawater Greenhouse
    Seawater Greenhouse
    The Seawater Greenhouse is a technology that enables the growth of crops in arid regions, using a greenhouse structure, seawater and solar energy...

Further reading

  • Henry Gilbert, Dryland Farming: January 1982-December 1990 (Beltsville, Md.: U.S. Department of Agriculture, National Agricultural Library, 1991).
  • Mary W. M. Hargraves, Dry Farming in the Northern Great Plains: Years of Readjustment, 1920-1990 (Lawrence: University of Kansas, 1993).
  • Oklahoma State Board of Agriculture, Report (Guthrie, Okla.: N. p., 1908).
  • Dr. John A. Widstoe,Ph.D. Dry-Farming, A System Of Agriculture For Countries Under A Low Rainfall (NY: The MacMillian Company, 1911)
  • Victor Squires and Philip Tow, Dryland Farming: A Systems Approach - An Analysis of Dryland Agriculture in Australia (Sydney: Sydney University Press, 1991)

External links

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