Dry Farming Project Update: Field days, flavor, and grower success create buzz in the media

Author: Amy Garrett, Lucas Nebert, and Teagan Moran, Oregon State University Small Farms Program

Publish Date: Fall 2019

This year marked the 5th annual series of dry farming field days. Four field days were held this year in the mid to southern Willamette Valley, each featuring multiple research projects engaging the Dry Farming Collaborative (DFC). The DFC initiated in 2016, now has more than 740 members in the FaceBook Group, 250 people connected via an email list who are interested in hosting trials, and 45 sites in the maritime Pacific Northwest that have hosted trials since 2016. More than 150 participants attended Dry Farming Field Days this year including farmers, gardeners, researchers, journalists, and others interested in learning about strategies for growing food with little to no irrigation in the Willamette Valley. Field Days included blind tastings of dry-farmed vs. irrigated tomatoes and melons.

Some of the research projects with the DFC featured at the field days this year included:

  • Variety Trials: 10 sites hosted potato, tomato, melon, and/or dry bean trials to assess how varieties perform dry farmed in our bioregion (led by A. Garrett, L. Nebert, and C. Homanics).
  • Site Suitability Study: 20 sites participated in the 2nd year of this study assessing what site characteristics are suitable for dry farming vegetable crops with support from Western SARE (led by A. Stone, A. Gallagher, and M. Davis).
  • Fungal Inoculant Study: 13 sites participated in the 2nd year of this study assessing the efficacy of fungal inoculants in enhancing drought tolerance of corn, beans, and squash with support from the USDA Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (led by L. Nebert).
  • Plant Breeding and Selection Projects: Multiple members of the DFC are saving seed from varieties that perform well dry farmed on their sites, and are sharing that seed back with the group to make their own selections, such as Beefy Resilient Grex dry bean from Fertile Valley Seeds, stewarded by A. Garrett, and Champagne Bubbles tomato from Anne Berblinger. Also, Lucas Nebert (Post Doctoral Fellow) and Jennifer Kling (OSU Plant Breeder) are making dry farmed selections and crossing with a generally diverse dent corn variety called Open Oak Party Mix (Adaptive Seeds). Lucas is also working with Jim Meyers (OSU Vegetable Breeder) to include some of his dry bean breeding lines in our variety trials.
  • Exploratory trials are also ongoing and being hosted on many DFC sites assessing different planting densities, mulching, grafted vs. ungrafted tomatoes, and a range of other techniques and crop varietals. Results from these trials are often shared at the DFC winter meeting and FaceBook group and inform what approaches are trialed next growing season as well as the focus of collaborative grant proposals.

More produce is showing up at the farmers market and grocery stores labeled ‘dry farmed’ since 2016, and excitement is building in the marketplace around the enhanced flavor of dry-farmed produce. Also, farmer success stories have been featured in local newspapers and picked up by multiple media sources including the Daily Astorian, the Albany Democrat-Herald, the Eugene Register-Guard, the Tribune News, the Capital Press, and OPB is airing a story on dry farming in October of 2019. The DFC continues to grow and will be having its 4th annual winter meeting in January 2020 to share and discuss the results of this year's trials and plan for 2020 trials. Join the Dry Farming Collaborative Facebook group, or for more information on dry farming visit: https://smallfarms.oregonstate.edu/smallfarms/projects/dry-farming.