The Journal Gazette
Saturday, November 17, 2018 1:00 am

Drought hurts Christmas tree supply

Farmers recovering from 2012 weather say worst is in past

DAVE GONG | For The Journal Gazette

A drought that struck northeast Indiana six years ago has had an effect on the number of trees available from local farms, two Christmas tree growers said Friday.

But that doesn't mean it's time for holiday revelers to panic, Judy Reifenberg of St. Joe Christmas Tree Farm said. 

“The suppliers, either on our farm or those that we bring in as precuts, we talk to them way, way early,” Reifenberg said. “We've got a good little network.” 

The number of Christmas tree suppliers is dwindling nationwide, Reifenberg said, as many tree farmers are dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Florence. That, coupled with an aging population of Christmas tree growers, means there are fewer suppliers to buy from. Plus, Reifenberg said, it's difficult to anticipate what kinds of trees the public is going to want seven to 12 years in advance. It takes that long for a tree to reach the proper height for use as a Christmas tree.

“For the Fort Wayne area, Allen County, Wells County, DeKalb County, Noble County and Van Wert County, the No. 1 choice by far is the Frasier Fur,” Reifenberg said. “Ten years ago it was Scotch Pine.” 

Between the trees grown on the property and a large number of pre-cut trees, Reifenberg said she feels good about this year's supply. There will be a good selection for families gearing up for the holiday season. 

“Since the (2012) drought, we've been struggling to have enough trees in our field to cut,” Reifenberg said. “This year we feel like we're going to pull out of it.” 

The 2012 drought had a heavy impact on Koontz Tree Farm, the only other Christmas three farm in the Fort Wayne area.

It took about 1,000 trees that would now be reaching the necessary 6 to 7 feet in height, Joyce Koontz said. 

“We're slowly recovering from that. We've replanted, but it will probably be two more years, maybe three where we'll start to have some of those six-foot trees again,” Koontz said, noting that her farm mostly sells Scotch and white pine trees. 

But that doesn't mean tree buyers won't be able to come to Koontz Tree Farm to cut down their own Christmas tree. There are also still plenty of trees available throughout the region. 

“There are plenty of trees. That's the information we've been getting through national organizations,” Koontz said. “There are plenty of trees out there, but they're not necessarily grown right here.”

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