Dry Farming in a Hot, Dry Year

From John, October 27th, 2015

The growing season for 2015 was the hottest and driest on record.  A high pressure ridge over the Pacific has been shielding California from rain over the past 3 years and is doing some of the same for Oregon.  So it is natural to ask what this all means for those of us who are growing our grape vines without “artificial precipitation”?

As it turns out, the answer is fairly simple:  grape vines are actually quite hardy and adapt readily to harsh conditions.  Dry farmed vines differ in significant ways from their irrigated counterparts.  The most obvious divergence is with the root system.  While irrigated vines spend their energy developing diverse root systems near the surface where the water is, dry-farmed vines push their water-gathering infrastructure downward where moisture will be found even in dry growing seasons.

Another less obvious adaptation of dry farmed vines appears in the leaves.  Leaves are covered with a waxy cuticle to limit water loss and place their breathing pores (stomata) on the undersides of the leaves.  A typical dry farmed vine, however, possesses around 50% less stomata than an irrigated vine and under conditions when the temperature soars above 90F they tend to close up their stomata to prevent water loss.  Thus the propensity to conserve precious water even while the root system is searching it out deep in the soil typifies a dry farmed vine.

As a result, dry farmed vines in the summer of 2015 fared just fine as long as they were old enough to have developed an adequate root structure.  Young vines (generally less than 3 years old) were severely stressed and in some cases required some hand-watering to keep them alive.  Thus no one likes a hot, dry summer but, once established, dry farmed vines are quite adept at surviving it.

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