Christmas tree farms ready for holiday season in spite of drought
By Laura Bentz
Among the various traditions, one seems to stand out: the Christmas tree. While many have switched to artificial trees, there is still a large number that opt to purchase a real tree each season. According to the National Christmas Tree Association, in the U.S. approximately 25 to 30 million real trees are sold each year.
This year, however, Christmas tree growers have cause for concern. The drought has resulted in a struggle to keep Christmas trees healthy and growing. Although the 2011 drought’s effects have received a lot of attention, many parts of Texas have not received normal rainfall for several years now.
“We just have not had much rain during the summer,” said Tim Knezek, Christmas tree farm owner and member of the board of directors for the Texas Christmas Tree Growers Association, referring to the last four summers.
However, Christmas tree farms are not necessarily beginning to fail.
Mortality rates are higher than in past years. According to Knezek, the mortality rate of his saplings is 15 percent this year, up from an average of 10 percent previous years. Among larger trees, 10 percent have been lost, compared to 2 percent in previous years.
Still, Knezek seems optimistic. “This is like any other type of farming,” he said. “Drought is almost never good for you, but it is something that you plan for. Probably the main difference is it takes us three or four or even five years to grow a crop.”
For now, Knezek uses a drip irrigation system under most of his trees to keep his trees healthy. He expects that next year all of his trees will be under drip irrigation. While this does add to production costs, Knezek considers it worthwhile and refers to the irrigation as his “insurance policy.”
Importing trees can also be helpful during this time, in order to supplement the supply on the farm. Knezek has done this for years, not because of the drought but as a way to supplement his income.
Some growers have chosen to import this year in order to protect their current crop of trees, which suffered from stunted growth due to the drought, from being cut.
Widespread concerns have also been raised for future years, as the young saplings currently growing are important in order to have a crop a few years from now.
Replacing saplings with slightly larger trees in the upcoming years is an option.
“If we lose mostly our small trees this year, then it’s possible that we may be able to maneuver around that and actually come out okay without there being a huge impact on the farm overall,” Knezek said.
As for now, Christmas tree farms remain a place for families to go not only to find the “perfect” tree but also to create memories with one another.