Drought Kills Thousands Of Young Christmas Trees In Michigan

By: Caroline Vandergriff Email
By: Caroline Vandergriff Email

This year's drought has devastated corn and soybean crops around the state, but the dry conditions affect many other crops as well, including your locally-grown Christmas trees.

The standard-size trees people buy for Christmas are typically 7 to 10 years old. Because those mature trees are more drought-resistant, the trees that will be chopped down this year remain relatively unaffected. However, it's the younger trees that have been virtually wiped out in many cases, creating a very challenging situation for local farms.

Mel Koelling has been growing Christmas trees at Tannenbaum Farms in Mason for about 35 years.

"It's kind of a life-long interest I've always had," Koelling said.

He thinks there's a lot of joy in seeing families find their perfect Christmas tree each holiday season.

"There's a great family togetherness, a fun time to get a Christmas tree. So there's a lot of personal satisfaction."

This year will be no exception. The drought hasn't really affected the more established, older trees, but it's devastated most of Koelling's newly-planted crop. So far, he's lost about 4,000 trees. Since Tannenaum Farms plants about 10,000 Christmas trees each year, that's almost half their new crop.

The losses have taken not just a financial toll, but an emotional one as well

"It gets to you if you're in the field everyday," said Koelling. "There's a lot of work involved. Each of these trees are replanted by hand, put in ground, watered, mulched. You do that 4,000 times and that's a lot of back-breaking work."

Because it takes 7 to 10 years to grow most standard-sized Christmas trees, Koelling will try to make up for his losses by doubling his nursery order for next spring.

"Over the 10 year, 9 year production cycle we're in, we'll make up for some of that if it just doesn't happen again next year," Koelling explained. "If it happens a few years in succession, we'd be really hurt."

Koelling says if the farm has another dry few weeks, it will mean even more losses. Meantime, he's keeping his fingers crossed for rain and keeping a positive attitude.

"There's a risk and that just kind of comes with it," said Koelling. "But every farmer will tell you - wait till next year and it will be better."

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