Establishing a beginning dry farming curriculum and accelerator program

Progress report for WRGR22-002

Project Type: Local Ed & Demo (formerly RGR)
Funds awarded in 2022: $99,901.00
Projected End Date: 03/31/2024
Host Institution Award ID: G356-22-W9216
Grant Recipient: Oregon State University Small Farms Extension
Region: Western
State: Oregon
Principal Investigator:
Dr. Lucas Nebert
Oregon State University
Amy Garrett
Oregon State University Small Farms Extension
Matthew Davis
Oregon State University
Expand All

Project Information


In the 2019 Western SARE Professional + Producer grant OW19-348 entitled, “Enhancing Vegetable Farm Resilience through Dryland Production,” we explored site factors related to dry farming success of tomatoes and winter squash. Important site factors included soil available water-holding capacity, native productivity rating, soil consistency, soil nutrient concentration and pH, and site microclimate. The results suggested that the best sites for dry farming have a high available water-holding capacity, a deep effective rooting depth, a sheltered microclimate (e.g., windbreaks), and adequate soil pH and nutrient concentration. Through participating in the dry farmed trial and receiving a site suitability assessment, ten participants adopted or improved dry farming practices, and were able to locate the optimal dry farming sites on their farms. In addition to the OW19-348 grant, members on this project team have also participated in current and former Western SARE funded projects centered on dry farmed tomato (SW20-917), winter squash (OW16-008), and corn (OW21-366) cultivar evaluation and selection, and have found valuable information about cultivars and breeding lines most suitable for dry farming in the maritime Pacific Northwest. 

Now that we gained an improved understanding of site suitability and cultivar selection for dry farming, and observed the positive impacts this knowledge provides producers, we plan to make these educational resources more widely accessible to new and beginning dry farmers, through an ‘Introduction to Dry Farming’ online course and a ‘Dry Farming Accelerator Program’. Combined, these tools will help farmers and agricultural professionals assess the physical and economic feasibility of dry farming on a particular site, identify the most appropriate dry farming locations, improve dry farming performance at a given location, identify varieties that have been successfully dry farmed in the maritime Pacific Northwest, and understand how to make their own dry farmed selections of cultivars. 



Project Objectives:

This project team and collaborating producers have conducted over six years of dry farming research on diverse crops in the maritime Pacific Northwest, much of it funded by Western SARE. Though we see first-hand its promise as a valuable climate adaptation tool in the region and beyond, we understand that broad adoption of dry farming practices is fundamentally limited by barriers in knowledge transmission to farmers and agricultural professionals, including basic knowledge about dry farming, its promise and constraints. With any change in farming practice, there is an associated risk, which we plan to mitigate through education. In this project, we will make basic dry farming knowledge openly accessible to producers and agricultural professionals through an online curriculum, as well as extension publications, recorded conference presentations, and social media outreach. In addition to increasing online access to dry farming information, we also plan to engage a cohort of producers new to dry farming through a hands-on, 1-on-1 and collaborative learning opportunity. Specifically, project objectives are to: 

  1. Increase farmer and agricultural professional knowledge of dry farming site suitability and practices with an open access online curriculum.  
  2. Enable a cohort of producers to determine the feasibility of adopting dry farming practices through a year-long ‘Dry Farming Accelerator Program’. 
  3. Engage with the broader farming community with project outcomes via publications, recorded conference presentations, and social media. 
  4. Evaluate changes in farmer knowledge, intentions and practices as a result of Objectives 1-3 to inform future innovations to these educational tools. 

The western United States is projected to be negatively impacted by drought in the coming decades [1], accelerating a depletion of aquifers, reservoirs, and river flow that farmers, fish and wildlife in the region depend on [2]. To mitigate risk of crop losses due to depletion and shut-offs of irrigation water, farmers must adapt by limiting over-reliance on unsustainable irrigation practices. Dry farming is a method of producing crops without irrigation in climates with an arid growing season by accessing soil moisture retained from the wet season, through soil water conservation practices and use of appropriate crop varieties [3]. Dry farming has the potential to be a key sustainable farming strategy in the maritime Pacific Northwest region, where cool season rains of over 20 inches provide ample water to the soil profile. 

Despite the promise of dry farming in the Pacific Northwest and beyond, farmers are still faced with barriers to adopt dry farming practices due to lack of practical knowledge about dry farming, and uncertainty about to what extent their sites are suitable for dry farming. Through the Western SARE Professional + Producer grant OW19-348, Alex Stone and team members determined a set of criteria with which to characterize a site’s suitability for dry farming vegetable crops, focusing on tomatoes and winter squash. Through this participatory research project, ten farmers either began adopting or significantly improved dry farming practices. Drawing upon these results, the project team will engage more farmers new to dry farming with an 'Introduction to Dry Farming' course and a 'Dry Farming Accelerator Program'. Central to these educational tools will be no-cost curriculum and consulting on site suitability. These resources will enable interested farmers to make informed decisions for adopting dry farming practices to reduce reliance on irrigation in the face of historical drought. 


Click linked name(s) to expand/collapse or show everyone's info
  • Dr. Alex Stone (Educator and Researcher)
  • Jason Bradford
  • Eliza Mason
  • Andy Gallagher (Researcher)

Education & Outreach Initiatives

Introduction to Dry Farming Curriculum

Increase farmer and agricultural professional knowledge of dry farming site suitability and practices with an open access online curriculum.


This online curriculum about dry farming will be divided into 3 modules:

  1. Introduction to Dry Farming: Overview of the basic definition, concepts, strategies and practices of dry farming.
  2. Site Suitability: Outline of the the key considerations when assessing the suitability of a location for dry farming, including climate and soil features.
  3. Crop and Variety Selection: Discussion of crop traits, cultivars, and marketing strategies 

This course consists of recorded presentations that include informational slides, recorded interviews of five experienced dry farmers, and links to additional resources on an accompanying webpage. This curriculum will be made freely available online (it is currently being reviewed by project cooperators), and Dry Farming Accelerator Program participants will be guided through the course.

Outcomes and impacts:

This free online course curriculum will educate farmers, gardeners and agricultural professionals about the basic theory and practice of dry farming, with particular focus on the Willamette Valley in Oregon, and more broadly the Maritime Pacific Northwest region that includes Northwestern California, and the areas west of the Cascade Mountains in Oregon and Washington.

Site Suitability Publication

Engage with the broader farming community with project outcomes through publications, recorded conference presentations, and social media.


This site suitability publication is still under review before submitting to HortTechnology journal of the American Society of Horticultural Science. However, it will expand upon the site suitability handout produced in Alex Stone‘s WSARE project (OW19-348), outlining the most important factors that determined dry farmed squash and tomato yields across multiple sites.

Outcomes and impacts:

Once published, this document will share WSARE funded research results to a broader audience of agricultural professionals around the world, and will also be used to guide and inform our own educational materials to better inform growers about site factors that ensure successful farming of dry farmed vegetables.

Educational & Outreach Activities

11 Consultations
1 On-farm demonstrations
3 Online trainings
1 Study circle/focus groups
2 Webinars / talks / presentations
1 Workshop field days

Participation Summary:

1 Extension
2 Researchers
1 Nonprofit
1 Ag service providers (other or unspecified)
2 Farmers/ranchers
Education/outreach description:

We have established a cohort of eleven participants for the new Dry Farming Accelerator Program that ranged from new to experienced farmers managing land ranging from 1/4 acre to 36 acres. Operations include five hobby farms, four production farms, an educational farm (i.e, Chemeketa Community College), and a farm managed by the Siletz Tribe. The program coordinator traveled to each of the sites with a soil expert to assess ideal locations for dry farming, and to take soil samples, a 5-ft deep soil core, and otherwise consult with participants. 1-on-1 consulting with the cohort participants will continue through the year to assist in on-farm dry farming trials, and cohort members will meet quarterly as a group starting in February 2023. Also in February, participants will complete three online trainings, representing each of the modules of the Intro to Dry Farming Curriculum. Each member will maintain a demonstration site for the 2023 season, and there will be a small, shared research project across sites. OSU will host a demonstration site as well, and showcase the project in a field day during the summer. The project team will share project details and outcomes in the 2023 and 2024 Dry Farming Collaborative Winter Convenings, and the OSU Small Farms Conference.

Learning Outcomes

3 Ag professionals intend to use knowledge, attitudes, skills and/or awareness learned

Project Outcomes

1 Grant received that built upon this project
Project outcomes:

We have no learning outcomes to report in the first 6 months of this project. However, Dry Farming Accelerator Program participants took an intake survey, which will serve as a baseline for their reported knowledge about dry farming. We will report learning outcomes after participants take a follow-up survey following the 2023 growing season. Additionally, we will report learning outcomes from voluntary survey that will be added to the end of each Introduction to Dry Farming Curriculum module, which will guide how this course will change into the future to better inform and educate farmers and ag professionals about dry farming. 

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.