After 20 years of smiles and joy, the beloved Smith Rock Ranch in Terrebonne almost didn’t make it to the starting gate this year.
The ranch, with its U-pick pumpkin patch, corn maze and other family friendly attractions, opened for the season last Saturday, but not without plenty of roadblocks.
“We knew early on there were going to be concerns because we had such a low snow accumulation last year,” said owner Matt Lisignoli.
The ranch itself sits in Central Oregon Irrigation District, which has senior water rights and consistent stream flows all year long.
But most of their pumpkins and crops sold on the ranch are grown in North Unit Irrigation District several miles up the road, and water allocations were low from the start.
“We usually get about two and a half acre-feet up in North Unit, and they started us with just a foot this year, which isn’t very much. An acre-foot would be a foot of water on an acre of land,” Lisignoli said.
Their allocation was knocked down to 8/10ths of a foot by July, and only a kind water loan from nearby Maragas Winery allowed them to get through the season.
“This is the high desert, we can’t produce crops without irrigation water,” Lisignoli said. “It’s just going to get harder and harder as the water becomes less available.”
Water hasn’t been the only shortage.
“We’re probably half staff this year from last year,” Lisignoli said.
Keeping up with deliveries and the schedule of the ranch has been near impossible.
“You see the signs all over town, everybody’s got help wanted signs up, and agriculture’s no different, only we’re on the lower end of it,” he said. “There’s not enough margin in what we do for us to offer big money to people to come work in the fields.”
The beauty is impossible to ignore, but so are the glaring problems.
“It’s going to be impossible for farming to exist in Central Oregon if they don’t resolve the irrigation issues,” Lisignoli said.
“This is beautiful, it’s amazing to put this together, but if I can’t do it successfully, then I can’t do it. I can’t continue.”