There will be no shortage of mature Christmas trees to decorate or place gifts under this year, but the drought of 2012 has not been favorable to newly planted trees.
Many Christmas tree farms in southern Wisconsin have lost nearly all of the seedlings planted this spring and it will force many to plant twice as many next year to make up for the losses.
"Every year you're going to lose a little, maybe 5 to 10 percent," said Russell Kook, owner of Caledonia Tree Farm near Merrimac, where all but 300 of the 4,500 seedlings he planted this year have died. "I've talked to at least a dozen other growers and I don't know any that haven't lost the majority of what they planted this year," he said.
Older trees have deeper root systems and can survive drought conditions better than young trees, experts say.
Wisconsin is home to about 900 Christmas tree farms that collectively harvest just under 1 million trees a year, said Cheryl Nicholson, executive secretary of the Wisconsin Christmas Tree Producers Association in Portage.
Nationally, Wisconsin ranks fifth in production, but the drought that has blanketed much of the West and Midwest will have little impact on the national Christmas tree crop, which will be about 30 million trees this year, said Rick Dungey, a spokesperson for the Missouri-based trade organization.
"Tree farming is different (from) other row crops," Dungey said. "Seasonal weather patterns aren't as impactful."
On the 600-acre Silent Night Evergreens farm near Endeavor in Marquette County, very few of the 30,000 seedlings planted this year have survived. Because the farm is located in an area with sandy soil, some mature trees have also been lost, said Diane Chapman, who owns the farm with her husband, Jim.
"It will impact our sales some this year but it really won't impact the consumer because there are still a lot of beautiful trees coming out of Wisconsin this year," she said.
At Summers Christmas Tree Farm in the town of Middleton, an area in the heart of the drought, mature trees are holding their own thanks to heavy soil, but virtually all of the 7,000 seedlings planted in April and May have died.
Bill Summers, owner of the 200-acre farm founded in 1957, said he will double his plantings next spring in an effort to fill a gap that could occur six to 10 years from now.
"The question is, does the drought end this year sometime and is next year a decent year?" he said. "If there's an extended period of time with drought, then it's a different story."