Sep 27, 2011

Heat, Drought, Fire: Not a Good Year for Christmas Trees

By Abbey Adkison
For Reporting Texas

ELGIN — Beth and Mike Walterscheidt are among the lucky ones. They have a drip irrigation system at their Christmas tree farm near this Central Texas town, so despite the drought they’ll have trees to sell this holiday season. Still, Beth said they expect to sell only about 500, half of the 1,000 they normally offer at Christmas.

The Walterscheidts own Evergreen Farms, a cut-your-own Christmas tree and pumpkin farm that attracts thousands of visitors every holiday season. They planted their first trees in 1989.

Mike, 66, said that some of their trees haven’t grown as much as they would have, but that Evergreen Farms would have trees to bring home when the weather turns cool again.

“We’ll have a few less large trees to cut, but we will have trees to cut,” Mike said. “We are going to bring in a few more trees in from out of state this year to keep our customers happy.”

He said he doesn’t see prices of Christmas trees being higher this year, but that more trees will have to be imported because of the heat and drought here.

“We’re active in the national Christmas Tree Growers Association,” said Beth, 65, “so we have a lot of friends all over, and they’re constantly emailing us and praying for us, so that’s nice. But it really is kind of bad.”

Miriam Garber and her husband Bob, both 72, are active in the Texas Christmas Tree Growers Association, with Bob a recent past-president. They visited the Elves’ Tree Farm in Denison this month for a growers’ gathering and were dismayed at the damage being done to the state’s 52 tree farms.

The Garbers said extreme temperatures can kill young trees even if they’re well irrigated.

“It’s devastating to sit there and look at a field of mature Christmas trees that are all brown,” Miriam said. “Those trees planted on hills just didn’t stand a chance.”

On Sept. 4, the Sunset Hill Tree Farm in Alvarado, near Forth Worth, lost 14 years of Christmas trees to fire. Growers association members are helping raise funds for the owners, Duane and Kathy Patrick, and a grower in North Carolina waived shipping fees to help secure trees from there to send to the Patricks.

“The Growers Association isn’t really financially viable for helping farmers,” Bob said.  The $110 annual dues cover a seedling discount and a thrice-yearly newsletter.  But as fellow farmers, they understand the problems that arise during severe drought.

“We all, and I think I can speak for all the farmers, have felt it,” Miriam said. “Everyone here has felt it. Just some more than others.”