Taking their time to select the perfect tree, the Barnes family meandered through rows of pine, spruce and cypress trees at Sorghum Mill Christmas Tree and Blackberry Farm on a recent afternoon.
The Oklahoma City family was hunting a tree that was tall enough and skinny but full. Three-year-old Evan took the mission seriously, while Adelyn, 1, liked to stop and play in the dirt.
“It's not just a task where we want to pick one and go,” explained their dad, Chad Barnes, who visited the farm with his wife, Joy. “We enjoy it.”
Last year was tough for Christmas tree farmers in Oklahoma. At least eight closed, and others are open but don't have any local trees to sell, said John Knight, owner of the Sorghum Mill farm and president of the Oklahoma Christmas Tree Association.
Knight's 45 acres required a lot of babying to get through the drought. In 2010, he lost at least 1,000 trees — maybe more, he said.
“If we didn't have irrigation, we probably wouldn't be here right now,” he said.
The Edmond farm has 36,000 to 38,000 trees and sells thousands each Christmas season. It takes several years for the trees to grow to a desirable height, and one year's stumps are quickly replaced with new seedlings. By early December, most customers already are enjoying their live Christmas tree in their home, but there were still trees to choose from, including precut trees, which are brought in from North Carolina.
Merrill Snider, who owns Goddard Tree Farm in Norman with his wife, Shirley, said his crop also was spared with irrigation. “It saved us from some of the horror stories of the growers I've heard,” he said.
He grows mostly Virgina pine trees and imports precut Frasier firs for his farm, which is open weekends starting in late November. The farm is a secondary income source for his family, supplementing retirement.
Like Sorghum Mill Christmas Tree and Blackberry Farm, which grows blackberries and landscape trees, Frontier Christmas Tree and Pumpkin Farm in Kingfisher has found ways to generate revenue outside the Christmas season. Owner Scott Dallas said when he opened last year, he decided having a pumpkin patch in September and October was a good fit for his business.
Dallas, an Oklahoma City fire investigator, said he and his wife, Kerryann, are looking into ways to keep customers at the farm year-round by hosting outdoor weddings and other events.
Now, about a third of the business' sales are from Christmas trees, although this year all it offers is precut imports. Dallas said they lost 80 percent of their trees last year in the drought, and the few that were ready to cut have been bought by customers. But this year's weather has been better.
“We had a spring rain, so the roots were able to take hold. It made a big difference,” Dallas said.