Last fall, anxiety was high at Smith Rock Ranch in Terrebonne as drought minimized their water allocation.
As they approach opening day this year on October 1 with their U-pick pumpkin patch, corn maze and animals, it’s a different story.
“The pumpkin crop is not a huge crop, but the quality looks really good, but last spring was a lot of uncertainty about whether we were going to make it and what we should be doing,” said Matt Lisignoli, the ranch’s owner.
Last summer Lisignoli grew most of his 35 acres of pumpkin crops several miles up the road on his property in Jefferson County.
As part of the North Unit Irrigation District, which only has junior water rights, the property was allocated just an acre foot of water at the start of the season, which is less than half of their usual allocation.
This year, Lisignoli didn’t want to take that risk.
“What we did this year is we planted the majority of our pumpkin crop here at Terrebonne,” he said. “That’s not a bad thing, only the climate gets better as you move further north and the pumpkins do better.”
The main ranch in Terrebonne is in the Central Oregon Irrigation District, which has senior water rights and more consistent access to water.
The heavy spring rain also contributed to a steadier season.
But Lisignoli won’t have enough room next year to rotate the pumpkins to another part of the main ranch, as it’s a crop that’s prone to disease and needs to be shifted from place to place.
He’ll have to take another gamble on the Jefferson County property, and the potential for less water.
“It’s going to depend on the weather this winter, how much snowpack we get, how much water is released through the Endangered Species Act,” Lisignoli said. “There’s just a lot of unknowns. It would be nice to have a definite plan, and we have in the past, but there’s just so much uncertainty.”
The Endangered Species Act, which protects the Spotted Frog and other species in the Deschutes and Crooked River basins, requires farmers to let more water out into the river in the winter rather than saving it up for summer.
Farmers in the North Unit Irrigation District then have to operate with less water throughout the irrigation season.
“We’re in a drought, but the bigger problem is going to be working with the conservation plan to store enough water so the farmers in Jefferson County can survive,” Lisignoli said. “Even though we have good water rights here, we only receive about a tenth of the water up in Jefferson County.”
To buy tickets for the corn maze and other activities at Smith Rock Ranch, you can visit their website at smithrockranch.com. Tickets are not required for the U-pick pumpkin patch.