Iowa Christmas Tree Farms Face Challenges

Mark Utzig walks the rows where trees should be growing on Saturday, Nov. 17, 2012 in Janesville, Wis. The high temperatures and record drought wreaked havoc on the the tree farm. (AP Photo/The Janesville Gazette, Mark Kauzlarich)

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By Larry Burkum

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - The last few years have been difficult for Iowa Christmas tree farmers, as drought, disease, and deer have killed many young trees.

For anyone entering the business, those hurdles are too high, said Jan Pacovsky, president of the Iowa Christmas Tree Growers Association, told the Des Moines Register for a story published Saturday (http://dmreg.co/1bxWBQS ).

"Younger growers that are coming in don't seem to want to stick with it, like us old-timers, because they find that it's really a lot of work," said Pacovsky, who head Pine Acres farm in New Hampton.

"We're having a hard time," she said.

Three years ago, deer stripped the farm of all the trees, she said.

Disease can be a threat and drought in the past few years has killed many trees.

It takes about seven years for a tree to grow to Christmas-ready maturity.

Many longtime growers also are aging out of the business. New farmers are not coming on board to replace retirees, she said. On average, most growers in the association are between the ages of 65 and 70, Pacovsky said.

The summer before last Sandra Hunter, who operates the 10-acre Christmas Tree Farm in Maxwell, lost countless saplings to drought. This past summer, drought killed 35 percent of new white pine plantings.

Hunter still has about 4,000 trees available for the streams of families seeking the perfect one. The farm sells its trees for $6 a foot for pines and $7 a foot for firs.

One of her favorite parts of selling Christmas trees has been the opportunity to see kids return to the farm, bigger every year.

"It's kind of like getting little snapshots of their growth," she said.

Sally Knox of Elkhart has forgone Black Friday sales to come to Hunter's farm with her son, Nick, now 22, for 15 years.

"People that don't get a real tree don't know what they're missing," Knox said. Choosing, cutting and bundling their pick, she said, "is like Norman Rockwell."

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