Drought Has Stunted East Tennessee Christmas Trees

By: Stephen McLamb Email
By: Stephen McLamb Email

Knox County (WVLT) -- This year's drought caused big problems for farmers and as it turns out Christmas tree farmers are also affected.

And as Volunteer TV's Stephen McLamb found out, some farmers are losing up to 75% of their first year seedlings.

And that is going to cost you.

Christmas will soon be here.

And for Peggy French, that means having a live Christmas tree.

"Well, it smells good. It just makes your whole house smell like Christmas," said French.

But, when Christmas trees on tree farms start to have the same fall colors look as hardwoods, that's not a good thing.

At White Pine acres, this year's drought has caused major problems, especially for new plantings.

"Mainly we lost our new trees that we planted back in January. We lost about 75% percent of the trees that we planted this year," said Jim Stevens, owner of White Pine Acres.

Without water, even the much larger trees took a hit.

"They sort of got stymied this year. They didn't grow. They just tried to survive so the trees are not as full and haven't grown as much," said Stevens.

"My trees are as good as they normally would be," said owner of Baker's Creek Tree Farm Charles Zearfoss.

But, just down the road trees at Bakers Creek Tree Farm in Blount County are plenty green.

"I'm fortunate, I had water," said Zearfoss.

Not from the skies, but Baker's Creek next to his farm.

Zearfoss estimates he spent well in excess of a 100 hours irrigating this year.

"I put down about 23,000 gallons of water an hour while I'm irrigating. Then I run it for a while for about four to six hours," he said.

But, using gasoline at a rate of two gallons an hour has added to the cost of keeping his trees beautiful.

"Tree prices for local grown trees are going to go up. They have to. They will increase," said Zearfoss.

Charles Zearfoss says his trees will be going up from $35 to $40 this year.

Meanwhile, Jim Stevens of White Pine Acres says he won't be raising prices this year, but is discouraging new customers.


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