Drought edging in on holiday tradition

Thousands of Christmas trees have dried up at Kris Kringle's Trees near Cedar Rapids, Iowa. (Photo by Pat Blank, Harvest Public Media)
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November 25, 2012 - 8:32pm

Like Black Friday shopping, many families make it a holiday tradition to visit a local tree farm to harvest their own Christmas tree. This year the pines may be plentiful, but the severe drought settled in over the Midwest may spell a future shortage.

In the Dr. Seuss book, it was the Grinch who stole Christmas. But for some Midwest tree growers, it may be the drought that eventually steals the Holiday.

Danny Moulds owns Kris Kringle’s Trees just north of Cedar Falls. He says the hot dry summer took a harsh toll on newly planted seedlings

Photo by Pat Blank, Harvest Public Media

Young Christmas trees could not handle the long stretch of dry weather.


Photo by Pat Blank, Harvest Public Media

"We don't have insurance for this," said Danny Moulds. He said it may be several years before customers notice how many trees were lost from this year's crop.

“We did lose about 15 thousand Christmas trees in a 46 acre farm,” said Moulds. “And with the fir trees we didn’t lose just the little ones we planted this year, we [also] lost last year’s.”

Had those young trees survived they would have been ready for harvest in 2019. Because the drought was so widespread, Iowa Department of Natural Resources District Forester Mark Vitosh said it may be harder to find the more popular varieties in the future.

“You have to have each size in your rotation to have enough trees to grow every year, so they’ve lost a year,” Vitosh said. “I would say the next 6 to 9 years, that’s where the gap will probably be.”

The good news for now is that most of the mature trees are okay. Danny Moulds said there will be plenty of Scotch and White Pines available this season and he made arrangements to supplement his supply of Firs, which are popular for their silver green branches and their aroma.

“We have a really nice relationship with a lady in Wisconsin where we cut our trees fresh and we bring them about a day or two early before open and get them set up,” Moulds said.

Moulds is among dozens of growers affected thought the Midwest. Losses are also reported in Minnesota and Michigan. He said, unfortunately, he can’t file a claim to recoup what he’s lost.

“We don’t have any insurance for this, Moulds said. “We’re not a corn or soybean producer. We’ll weather the storm. We’ll replant. I don’t think I’ll double what I replant because in 2019 or 2020 I’d have more trees than what I’d know what to do with.”

Moulds said Christmas tree growers know the risks of the business. If it’s not weather related, sometimes it’s insects or wildlife that reduce the profits. He said he knows of an Iowa producer who had part of his crop eaten by deer in 2011 and had the rest of it destroyed by this year’s drought.

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