From horticulture to agriculture, today’s growers are faced with unique challenges such as a decrease in available labor and battling the uncertainties of climate change. For Christmas tree farmers across the country, that reality is no different as questions about sustained profitability loom overhead.
While the horticulture and agriculture industries struggle with labor shortages, automated equipment provides a real-world solution to a growing problem.
But for the Christmas tree farmer, their main struggle is something which cannot be easily rectified, with few solutions on the horizon – Mother Nature.
A weather-stressed environment prone to flooding, droughts and diseases, not to mention wildfires, continues to challenge farmer’s livelihood, and has become their enemy.
Tim O’Connor, Executive Director of the National Christmas Tree Association, says, “It’s a real situation for farmers. They’re growing trees in an environment in which they can see the impact of climate change.”
Hundreds of Christmas tree farmers across the country have already closed their doors, unable to recover from weather related extremes and natural disasters which often wipe out an entire harvest.
The problem is it takes about ten years for a five to six-foot Christmas tree to reach full maturity. The cost and labor involved in replanting an entire crop of trees – if lost – is impossible for many Christmas tree farmers today.
Washington State University Plant Pathologist Gary Chastagner said, “If climate change was to result in warmer temperatures in the fall, there would be a greater risk of needle loss on harvested trees. If climate change resulted in increased rain during the growing season, this would also have the potential to increase the risk of Phytophthora root rot, which can be a very serious disease that kills trees.”
For now, Christmas tree farmers who remain committed to the business will look for new varieties of trees that are more tolerant of today’s weather extremes. But fewer growers mean prices could rise on the purchase of fresh Christmas trees across the nation, as supply struggles to meet the overall demand.
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