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- Dry-Farming - 1/42 -

Edited by Charles Aldarondo (










JUNE 1, 1910


Nearly six tenths of the earth's land surface receive an annual rainfall of less than twenty inches, and can be reclaimed for agricultural purposes only by irrigation and dry-farming. A perfected world-system of irrigation will convert about one tenth of this vast area into an incomparably fruitful garden, leaving about one half of the earth's land surface to be reclaimed, if at all, by the methods of dry-farming. The noble system of modern agriculture has been constructed almost wholly in countries of abundant rainfall, and its applications are those demanded for the agricultural development of humid regions. Until recently irrigation was given scant attention, and dry-farming, with its world problem of conquering one half of the earth, was not considered. These facts furnish the apology for the writing of this book.

One volume, only, in this world of many books, and that less than a year old, is devoted to the exposition of the accepted dry-farm practices of to-day.

The book now offered is the first attempt to assemble and organize the known facts of science in their relation to the production of plants, without irrigation, in regions of limited rainfall. The needs of the actual farmer, who must understand the principles before his practices can be wholly satisfactory, have been kept in view primarily; but it is hoped that the enlarging group of dry-farm investigators will also be helped by this presentation of the principles of dry-farming. The subject is now growing so rapidly that there will soon be room for two classes of treatment: one for the farmer, and one for the technical student.

This book has been written far from large libraries, and the material has been drawn from the available sources. Specific references are not given in the text, but the names of investigators or institutions are found with nearly all statements of fact. The files of the Experiment Station Record and Der Jahresbericht der Agrikultur Chemie have taken the place of the more desirable original publications. Free use has been made of the publications of the experiment stations and the United States Department of Agriculture. Inspiration and suggestions have been sought and found constantly in the works of the princes of American soil investigation, Hilgard of California and King of Wisconsin. I am under deep obligation, for assistance rendered, to numerous friends in all parts of the country, especially to Professor L. A. Merrill, with whom I have collaborated for many years in the study of the possibilities of dry-farming in Western America.

The possibilities of dry-farming are stupendous. In the strength of youth we may have felt envious of the great ones of old; of Columbus looking upon the shadow of the greatest continent; of Balboa shouting greetings to the resting Pacific; of Father Escalante, pondering upon the mystery of the world, alone, near the shores of America's Dead Sea. We need harbor no such envyings, for in the conquest of the nonirrigated and nonirrigable desert are offered as fine opportunities as the world has known to the makers and shakers of empires. We stand before an undiscovered land; through the restless, ascending currents of heated desert air the vision comes and goes. With striving eyes the desert is seen covered with blossoming fields, with churches and homes and schools, and, in the distance, with the vision is heard the laughter of happy children.

The desert will be conquered.


June 1, 1910.




Dry-farming, as at present understood, is the profitable production of useful crops, without irrigation, on lands that receive annually a rainfall of 20 inches or less. In districts of torrential rains, high winds, unfavorable distribution of the rainfall, or other water-dissipating factors, the term "dry-farming" is also properly applied to farming without irrigation under an annual precipitation of 25 or even 30 inches. There is no sharp demarcation between dry-and humid-farming.

When the annual precipitation is under 20 inches, the methods of dry-farming are usually indispensable. When it is over 30 inches, the methods of humid-farming are employed; in places where the annual precipitation is between 20 and 30 inches, the methods to be used depend chiefly on local conditions affecting the conservation of soil moisture. Dry-farming, however, always implies farming under a comparatively small annual rainfall.

The term "dry-farming" is, of course, a misnomer. In reality it is farming under drier conditions than those prevailing in the countries in which scientific agriculture originated. Many suggestions for a better name have been made. "Scientific agriculture" has-been proposed, but all agriculture should be scientific, and agriculture without irrigation in an arid country has no right to lay sole claim to so general a title. "Dry-land agriculture," which has also been suggested, is no improvement over "dry-farming," as it is longer and also carries with it the idea of dryness. Instead of the name "dry-farming" it would, perhaps, be better to use the names, "arid-farming." "semiarid-farming," "humid-farming," and "irrigation-farming," according to the climatic conditions prevailing in various parts of the world. However, at the present time the name "dry-farming" is in such general use that it would seem unwise to suggest any change. It should be used with the distinct understanding that as far as the word "dry" is concerned it is a misnomer. When the two words are hyphenated, however, a compound technical term--"dry-farming"--is secured which has a meaning of its own, such as we have just defined it to be; and "dry-farming," therefore, becomes an addition to the lexicon.

Dry-versus humid-farming

Dry-farming, as a distinct branch of agriculture, has for its purpose the reclamation, for the use of man, of the vast unirrigable "desert" or "semi-desert" areas of the world, which until recently were considered hopelessly barren. The great underlying principles of agriculture are the same the world over, yet the emphasis to be placed on the different agricultural theories and practices must be shifted in accordance with regional conditions. The agricultural problem of first importance in humid regions is the maintenance of soil fertility; and since modern agriculture was developed almost wholly under humid conditions, the system of scientific agriculture has for its central idea the maintenance of soil fertility. In arid regions, on the other hand, the conservation of the natural water precipitation for crop production is the important problem; and a new system of agriculture must therefore be constructed, on the basis of the old principles, but with the conservation of the natural precipitation as the central idea. The system of dry-farming must marshal and organize all the established facts of science for the better utilization, in plant growth, of a limited rainfall. The excellent teachings of humid agriculture respecting the maintenance of soil fertility will be of high value in the development of dry-farming, and the firm establishment of right methods of conserving and using the natural precipitation will undoubtedly have a beneficial effect upon the practice of humid agriculture.

The problems of dry-farming

The dry-farmer, at the outset, should know with comparative accuracy the annual rainfall over the area that he intends to cultivate. He must also have a good acquaintance with the nature of the soil, not only as regards its plant-food content, but as to its power to receive and retain the water from rain and snow. In fact, a knowledge of the soil is indispensable in successful dry-farming. Only by such knowledge of the rainfall and the soil is he able to adapt the principles outlined in this volume to his special needs.

Since, under dry-farm conditions, water is the limiting factor of

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