The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Local News

November 25, 2012

After summer drought, local farms still harvesting Christmas tree crops

JOPLIN, Mo. — If you have your heart set on displaying a live Christmas tree this holiday season, you’re in luck.

The owners of several local Christmas tree farms say the severe drought that gripped the region over the summer, though damaging, had little effect on this winter’s crop of trees.

“As far as the outlook is concerned, we’re very optimistic,” said Karen Bowen, who owns Bowen’s Christmas tree farm in Pittsburg, Kan., with her husband, Jim.

Drought conditions lasting for much of the summer withered fields and crops locally. But summer weather patterns typically don’t have a significant impact on crops harvested later in the year, according to Rick Dungey, public relations manager for the National Christmas Tree Association.

“Those are more mature trees with well-established root systems, so they’re not as susceptible to seasonal weather patterns as are younger trees,” he said in an August blog post for the association. “The seedlings farmers planted in the spring, however, can be damaged by excessive or insufficient rainfall. Mortality rates of newly planted seedlings can go up due to weather extremes.”

That was the situation this summer at the Ozark Valley Christmas Tree Farm near Southwest City, which held its grand opening on Friday, co-owner Charity Keith said.

She said her older trees, which take about seven years to reach the appropriate height and maturity for a Christmas tree, already had established root systems when the drought hit, having been planted years ago. The younger trees didn’t fare well, she said.

“We planted 600 seedlings this year, and we lost every single one of them,” Keith said. “It was really sad. That doesn’t affect us this year, but in seven years, we’re going to notice that — we won’t have that crop coming up.”

The Ozark Valley farm offers pre-cut trees in varieties not typically grown in Missouri, such as Fraser firs and white pines, as well as Scotch pines that visitors can cut themselves, Keith said. The farm also offers hayrides and a gift shop.

Andy Johnson, co-owner of the Bridgestone Christmas tree farm, on Highway 43 north of Stone’s Corner, said his crop of younger trees was more affected than his older trees by the lack of rainfall.

“Mainly with the drought, what we lost were our little trees, the ones we planted in the spring,” he said. “By the time they get 4 or 5 years old, they’re pretty drought-resistant, so I didn’t see too much as far as those trees being affected until it got way far along into the drought, and that’s when I watered at night, basically all night long.”

The Bridgestone farm offers pre-cut trees and also gives visitors the option of cutting down a tree in the fields. It features hayrides, a gift shop and campfires for visitors.

“As a family, we like going out and cutting down Christmas trees, and we just wanted to offer that to other families,” Johnson said. “We’re hoping we can really provide for this area the atmosphere of Christmas.”

Bowen said she had not seen anything like the summer drought since she and her husband planted their first tree in 1984.

“We’ve had other diseases, but no, this is the first time we had where we could see (an impact) on all of them, not just a few,” she said.

Bowen said the lack of rainfall stunted the growth of some of the more mature trees. Partly for that reason, visitors will not be allowed to cut down a tree at the Bowen farm this year, though they will be allowed to roam the fields. A variety of pre-cut trees, including Scotch and Austrian pines and Fraser, Balsam and Douglas firs, will be available on site.

One local Christmas tree farm, Pine Flats, owned by the Bridges family, fell victim to a July wildfire that ate up hundreds of acres northwest of Diamond. Pre-cut and cut-your-own trees are still available at the family’s other farm, 18434 Ivy Road near Carthage.

In addition to farms, Christmas trees also will be available this year at a number of retail locations, including the newly reopened Anderson’s Ice Cream shop south of Joplin. Owner Billy Garrigan acknowledged that it is “unique” for an ice cream shop to sell trees — he said he brought in 58 Fraser firs from a farm in North Carolina and had sold about 20 by Friday — but he wanted to add to the family-friendly atmosphere he tries to create at the shop.

“It’s something else that families can come and do together,” he said. “It kind of adds more to their experience down here.”

By the numbers

30.8 million live Christmas trees in 2011, according to the National Christmas Tree Association. Of those, 84 percent were pre-cut and bought by consumers from a farm, nursery, chain store or retail lot, while the remaining 16 percent were cut at farms by the consumers themselves.

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