Christmas tree crop hurt by soggy summer

Published: Nov. 16, 2023 at 6:11 AM EST
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MIDDLEBURY, Vt. (WCAX) - The most wonderful time of year is right around the corner and some Christmas tree farms in the state are hoping it provides a boost after a wild weather year. While weather conditions are localized and not every farm is impacted, some Christmas tree growers are weighing the impacts of an extremely wet growing season.

“This is the single most challenging year we’ve ever had,” said Amanda Werner with Werner Tree Farm in Middlebury.

Their primary growing season is in the summer. They say July is the most crucial, but this year, it brought the most water. Werner says their 35 acres received at least 44 inches of rain since June.

“Our soil can only absorb an inch. So, the trees have been in standing water all summer,” she said.

Werner says they usually do around 500 choose-and-cut trees but lost more than half on their main farm. The farm is working to keep their choose-and-cut season strong for families. Luckily, their wreaths are unaffected at their Lincoln location.

“This summer is going to affect us for a decade because it takes 10 years for a tree to grow. So, we might need to get a little bit creative with how the farm evolves in the future,” said Werner.

For other farms, like the Russell Farm in Starksboro, the May frost caused some damage, too. As far as the rain goes, David Russell says they were luckier than others and had minimal flooding, but the rain still presented hurdles.

“It was just hard to keep the grass down. We try not to spray and so it was a real challenge that way,” said Russell.

While they fared better than they could have, Russell says they, too, won’t have an entire crop of choose-and-cut trees this season due to their growing cycle. He says it’s a balance of making sure they’re planting and growing enough to make a sustainable future, but selling enough to make a sustainable business with Mother Nature always throwing curveballs.

“We don’t want to overcut the trees. We want to have some for next year. So, we’ve got a lot of young trees coming on so we’re hoping in a few years, we’ll be back to where we can be open full-time,” said Russell.

Despite a challenging year, both farms say they’re excited to welcome families to grab a tree.

“We’re gonna be open, we’re going to have lots of fun things for families to do, and it might be a little bit different than it used to be, but we’re committed to giving families good experiences,” said Werner.

Pick your own Christmas tree activities in Vermont usually kick off right after Thanksgiving.