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Drought challenged Christmas tree farmers, but there are still live Oklahoma-grown trees

At least eight Christmas tree farms closed in the wake of last year's drought and others have no trees to sell. But those that irrigate say it saved their crop.
by Jennifer Palmer Modified: December 7, 2012 at 10:04 pm •  Published: December 8, 2012

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.

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by Jennifer Palmer
Investigative Reporter
Jennifer Palmer joined The Oklahoman staff in 2008 and, after five years on the business desk, is now digging deeper through investigative work. She's been recognized with awards in public service reporting and personal column writing. Prior to...
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