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Drought's Impact on Christmas Trees Won't Be Felt for Years

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FAIRBANK, Iowa - The drought of 2012 punched holes in future Christmas tree crops but had little effect on trees available for this holiday season, Eastern Iowa growers say.

"The trees people are cutting right now had good roots systems and survived the drought very well," said Bob Moulds, proprietor of Wapsie Pines Tree Farm, which expects to sell 1,000 trees this weekend.

But the drought took a heavy toll on seedlings planted this year for sale seven to eight years down the road, Moulds said.

Of the 4,000 12- to 18-inch seedlings Mould planted this year, at least 1,500 perished in the drought, he said.

His son, Danny Moulds, who operates a tree farm north of Cedar Falls, lost 10,000 trees to the drought, many of them up to 4 years old, Moulds said.

Moulds said the loss will leave "a three-year hole" in his son's future sales plan. "You can't catch up from a loss like that," he said.

Debra Hoffman, co-owner of Hoffman Tree Farm in Marion, said she and husband Dan lost almost all the 1,500 seedling they planted this year.

"It will mean one year down the road we will have fewer trees to sell," she said.

Peggy Kirby, who operates Kirby Christmas Tree Farm near Toddville with her husband Kenny, said they lost all 1,500 seedlings they planted this year and all 1,500 of their second-year trees.

"We won't feel the loss for another six or seven years. We still have about 10,000 Christmas trees to sell," she said.

Kirby said they were not set up to water their trees and had to depend solely upon the scant rains that fell this summer.

Moulds said he watered his seedlings three times but gave up when it became apparent they were dying anyway.

Fir trees, which make up about 75 percent of his production, are not well adapted to heat and drought, he said.

"Little Fraser firs can't pull enough water to survive intense heat even if you pour the water to them," he said.

Moulds, who planted his first Christmas tree in 1980, said he suffered similar losses during the drought of 1988-89.

Because of deer, insects, disease and unfavorable weather, "you have to plant two trees to get one," he said.

Evergreens that aren't perfect enough to sell as Christmas trees are culled to make garlands and the 600 wreaths the firm will sell each year, Moulds said.

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