Texas Christmas tree growers experienced a challenging growing season, but a good holiday season market is making any additional effort and expense worth it for many.
Greg Grant, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service horticulture agent, Smith County, said 2020 has been a challenging season for many agriculture industries and businesses due to weather and COVID-19. But Christmas tree farms and nurseries in general have been a bright spot for Texas.
There were concerns about how the pandemic might affect tree farms, but indications are that the season is providing good market conditions for Texas producers, he said.
“It was an odd year horticulturally speaking with a normal spring, decent summer and an atypically dry fall, so it’s good that the trees – the Leyland cypress and Virginian pines that are grown locally – fared relatively well,” he said. “And the concerns about whether people would just stay home and put up a plastic tree this year seem to be subsiding as consumers have shown they want live trees and want to get out and have a traditional holiday experience with their families.”
Christmas tree, holiday traditions
Bob Jones, owner of Spring Creek Growers in Magnolia, said demand for Texas-grown Christmas trees is very strong overall. COVID-19 has required increased expenses and logistical complications for his operation, but it has also increased customer traffic and demand for “choose and cut” trees.
“We’ve implemented all the sanitation, social distancing and safety measures, including curbside pickup, to make our customers comfortable, but what we’re seeing and hearing is that people are tired of being cooped up and they are looking for activities outdoors.”
Jones said customer visits to his operation, which also includes cut trees – Fraser firs from North Carolina and Noble and Nordmann firs from Washington, a holiday setting for family gatherings and photos, a bakery and hayrides, have picked up throughout the week.
Tree prices increased minimally to help offset some of the added expenses, but Jones said they are competitive with other suburban areas around the state. “Choose and cut” trees, those picked out and then cut down by the customer as a holiday family experience, start around $60-$65 with prices increasing according to height, and cut trees from out of state start at $80-$90.
“Slight price increases were likely similar around the state, either based on tighter supplies of shipped trees and very strong demand or to absorb costs associated with the pandemic,” he said. “Prices might have gone up a little more in bigger markets, but I think most producers are sensitive to the fact many families may have other spending priorities this year.”
Christmas tree quality, challenges
Jones said tree quality was good this year, but that the growing season was challenging due to drought. August was especially difficult as dry conditions required intense moisture monitoring on the farm.
“We went into a flash drought where it turned very hot and dry very quickly, and August is when the trees typically get their first flush that we follow with a trimming in September, and then trees typically respond with another flush where they really fill out nicely,” he said. “So, we were pouring water 24/7 to keep them hydrated through those flushes.”
Jones said disease pressure was minimal this year, but that he maintained his proactive integrated pest management program throughout the season to monitor and avoid any potential problems. Leyland cypress trees can be susceptible to a fungus, seiridium canker, but there were few issues this season.
Overall, despite some challenging weather, the 2020 holiday season should be good for many Christmas tree farms, especially those that provide an array of outdoor activities related to the holiday season.
“There’s really not much competition for time this year,” he said. “People aren’t traveling, not taking their typical trips, so they are hungry to get out and do something, especially families with kids.”
Tree care at home
Grant said there are a few things consumers can do to extend the life of their Christmas tree.
Providing water to any fresh-cut tree as soon as possible is an important first step, he said. He also recommends trimming the base of pre-cut trees to allow the tree to better absorb water before and after it is placed in the home.
“I would recommend placing the tree in a bucket with plenty of water as soon as you arrive home and let it soak up as much moisture as it can overnight,” he said. “Then place the tree and fill the stand’s reservoir and monitor the reservoir and add water as needed. A lot of people put water in the reservoir as soon as they get home, but then they have a tree skirt and presents around it and forget about additional water. But proper watering will extend its life and help reduce the chances of having a brittle tree or dropping needles, and a potential fire hazard.”
AgriLife Extension district reporters compiled the following summaries:
Rain and cooler temperatures arrived late in the reporting period. Cattle producers provided supplemental feed in most areas. Livestock were in good condition. Recent rains brought much-needed moisture to help later-planted wheat. Cornfields were slowly being cultivated and amended. Stock tanks were low. Winter wheat stands were patchy, reflecting variable germination. Some growers were changing planting plans from winter wheat to spring sorghum. The weather outlook for December was drier and warmer than normal. The weather was good for pecan harvest with good quality and yields.
Areas in the district received a cooler and rainy week. Winter wheat that emerged was in fair to good condition. Cattle producers continued to provide supplemental feed in areas with limited grazing. Cotton harvest continued, and some areas reported significant freeze damage to cotton fields from an early frost event.
Some very needed rain fell across the district over Thanksgiving weekend with totals averaging 2-3.5 inches and isolated reports of 5-8 inches in Calhoun and Wharton counties. The added moisture was absorbed quickly and should help winter pastures, planted wheat and future plantings. Some producers were fertilizing. Some hay was still being baled. Cattle producers increased supplemental feeding following the wet cold snap. Local livestock auctions reported large runs of cattle. Pecan harvest continued with good yields and quality.
Some rainfall was received, but more was needed to relieve drought conditions and jump start winter forage growth. Subsoil and topsoil conditions were adequate. Anderson County reported some producers were still trying to get a last cutting of hay. Pasture and rangeland conditions were fair. A cold front caused temperatures to drop about 20 degrees. Livestock were fair to good with some supplemental feeding taking place. Feral hog damage increased on hay meadows and croplands.
Farmers finished stripping cotton across the district. A few gins should finish operations soon, and others anticipate ending ginning activities before the Christmas holiday. A lot of farmers planted late winter wheat before Thanksgiving with hopes of receiving enough moisture for fields to emerge. Cattle were on supplemental feed amid poor pasture conditions due to drought.
Subsoil and topsoil moisture levels were short to adequate. Pasture and rangeland conditions were poor to good with reports of very poor conditions in northwestern areas of the district. Winter wheat was mostly fair with some fields in good condition. Some early planted and irrigated wheat looked good and was being grazed, but dryland fields were starting to suffer. Producers continued to harvest cotton and were nearing completion. Fieldwork continued with manure and compost applications.
Topsoil moisture was mostly adequate to short. Areas received 1-2 inches of rain, and temperatures dropped to freezing during the reporting period. The cold snap was expected to kill out warm-season grasses. Pastures needed moisture. Livestock sales were closed due to Thanksgiving.
Temperature highs were in the low 80s with lows in the upper 30s. Half an inch of rainfall was reported in northeastern parts of the district. The ground was still very dry with almost no topsoil moisture and very little subsoil moisture. Producers were fighting off African rue, prickly pear and mesquite. Rangeland, pasture and winter wheat conditions were very poor. Some winter wheat fields had not emerged. Livestock were being supplemented with feed.
Conditions remained dry for most of the district. Some areas received up to 1 inch of rainfall, but not enough for any substantial change. Planted wheat had not emerged due to dry soil, and wheat that had emerged was not doing well. Livestock were being fed hay and supplements pretty heavily to keep body condition scores up. Cotton harvest was winding down with about 75% of fields harvested.
Chambers County received 4-8 inches of rainfall, and other counties reported rainfall and cooler temperatures. Rainfall was good for ryegrass growth but saturated the ground. Brazos County reported drought conditions had worsened. Livestock were in good health. Rangeland and pasture ratings were poor to excellent with fair ratings being the most common. Soil moisture levels were surplus to very short with surplus being the most common.
Dry conditions continued until a cold front delivered trace amounts to 1.5 inches of rain across the district. Rains should help oat and wheat fields that had not yet emerged. A hard freeze was in the forecast. Rangeland and pasture conditions should improve following the rains. Livestock were in fair condition. Livestock producers continued to provide heavy amounts of supplemental feed. Culling and premature weaning of calves were standard practices for all producers. Local hunters said deer were in fair shape and staying around feeders, as there was little to no green browse available.
Most areas reported short to very short soil moisture. Northern and southern parts of the district reported adequate soil moisture conditions. La Salle County reported 1-1.5 inches of rainfall. Jim Wells reported 0.5 inch of rain and Kleberg-Kennedy counties reported up to 1 inch. The first freeze was in the forecast with lows of 30 degrees expected. Temperatures were warm and cooled at the end of the reporting period. Peanut harvest neared completion with some late-planted fields to go. Wheat fields continued to develop. Pasture and rangeland conditions were poor, but rainfall should help. Livestock supplemental feeding continued. Pasture and rangeland conditions continued to decline in drier areas, and supplemental feeding increased. Hidalgo County producers performed tillage practices and weed control should be next. Sugarcane and citrus harvests continued. A few canola fields were blooming. Winter vegetables looked good. Some hay baling operations continued.