California’s ‘dry farmers’ grow crops without irrigation

The environmentally conscious practice relies on rainwater to grow seasonal crops

DECEMBER 18: Jim Leap is photographed on his property on Tuesday, Dec. 18, 2018, in San Juan Bautista, Calif. Leap grows grains, fruits, and vegetables on about one acre of his land using dry farming techniques. (Aric Crabb/Bay Area News Group)

SAN JUAN BAUTISTA — Jim Leap fondly recalls the first Early Girl tomatoes he grew at UC Santa Cruz’s farm in 1990. Sweet and bursting with flavor, they were raised without a single drop of irrigated water.

Nearly three decades later, he remains deeply committed to “dry farming” — forsaking modern irrigation and relying on seasonal rainfall to grow tomatoes, winter squash, potatoes, dry beans and corn on the 4-acre San Juan Bautista farm that Leap and his wife, Polly Goldman, have owned for eight years.

“What motivated us to dry farm was the environmental ethic,” Goldman said. “We are not using city water or groundwater.”

As California gets hotter and drier because of climate change, Leap, Goldman and other members of this small but brave band of farmers predict that dry farming and other water-sparing techniques will become more popular in the Golden State.

While unfamiliar to many consumers, dry farming is an age-old practice that entails carefully managing soils to lock winter rainfall into the top layers until it’s time to begin growing crops during the spring and summer. As little as 20 inches of rain – roughly the same amount that the Central Coast receives each winter on average – can sustain crops in the months without rainfall, with no need to add any extra water.

The strategy has been used for generations by grape and olive growers in […]

More about irrigation and farming:

In water-scarce Southwest, ancient irrigation system disrupts big agriculture

Irrigating wine crops is no longer sustainable!

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California’s ‘dry farmers’ grow crops without irrigation
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California’s ‘dry farmers’ grow crops without irrigation
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Dry farming entails managing soils to lock winter rainfall into the top layers until it’s time to begin growing crops during the spring and summer.
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Santa Cruz Sentinel
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