Christmas trees, in good supply, defy record-breaking droughts

Ron Recinto
December 20, 2012

This year's severe drought in the U.S. may have wiped out corn and wheat crops, but people fond of live Christmas trees don't have to worry about the dry season's effects this holiday season or for years to come.

"Farm trees harvested this year aren't impacted at all," said Rick Dungey, the National Christmas Tree Association's spokesman. "The trees have been in the ground for a number of years, and they have established a good root system and are less susceptible to weather changes."

Data from the Palmer Drought Severity Index show 54.6 percent of the contiguous 48 states were in severe drought. According to a National Climatic Data Center report, it was the 10th-most severe drought since 1895.

Dungey said since it takes conifers several years to grow to sizes customers want—between 5 feet to 9 feet—tree growers can manage crops over several seasons, accounting for damage done by the 2012 drought's scorching heat and dry conditions.

Christmas tree growers can also make up for losses by planting faster-growing species of trees or by shearing and shaping young trees differently so they grow quicker, said Dungey, whose trade association represents more than 700 active member farm, and 29 state and regional associations. "A lot can happen in the intervening years," he said.

As many as 31 million trees will be sold in the U.S. this year, with 2012 shaping up as a good year, especially for harvesters in the Northwest.

Trees from that region helped Beth Walterscheidt, co-owner of Evergreen Farms in Elgin, Texas, this year. She worked with Northwest growers and brought in Christmas trees from their farms to make up for her lower yields, selling those trees alongside some Texas-grown varieties.

Walterscheidt said this year's weather was bad, but rain later in the year helped her trees recover. However, their farm is still reeling from 2011 when several days of more than 110-degree heat killed many of her young trees.

"It will take 2-3 years to come back—as long we have rain," she said.

Tim's Trees, a Christmas tree farm in Wheelock, Texas, uses drip irrigation on its Virginia pines, Arizona cypress and Leyland cypress trees, which helps provide evergreens a consistent water supply no matter the conditions, says co-owner Anna Knezek.

When asked about the harsh weather, Knezek said, "You always lose a few trees, that's just nature."

Dungey of the NCTA said the financial impact will be on individual farms that have to replace seedlings that died because of the drought. "The individual farms, I feel bad for them. ... But consumers won't notice any difference," Dungey said.