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Christmas trees suffer through drought

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Thousands of Christmas trees have dried up at Kris Kringle's Trees near Cedar Rapids, Iowa. (Pat Blank for Harvest Public Media)
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Reporter, Iowa Public Radio

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, who owns Kris Kringle’s Trees just north of Cedar Falls, Iowa, said the hot dry summer took a harsh toll on newly planted seedlings. “We did lose about 15,000 Christmas trees in a 46-acre farm,” Moulds said. “And with the fir trees we didn’t lose just the little ones we planted this year, we (also) lost last year’s.”

Still, although Christmas tree losses have been reported across Midwest, the pines should be plentiful this year. The shortage may come several years from now.

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 six to nine years, that’s where the gap will probably be.”

The good news for now is that most of the mature trees are okay. 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.

Still, Moulds still has to deal with his lossed — and he didn’t have insurance for this.

“We’re not a corn or soybean producer. We’ll weather the storm. We’ll replant,” he said. “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.