Mother Nature has delivered the Grinch in the form of a historic drought that has killed thousands of Christmas trees across Texas and Oklahoma. Some died of thirst. Others were destroyed by wildfires, whose breadth and intensity were magnified when wind swept the flames across the parched landscape.
Most farmers plan to import trees from North Carolina to supplement any they have left, said Marshall Cathey, president of the Texas Christmas Tree Growers Association. They say they aren't planning to raise prices because consumers are reluctant to pay more than $40 or $50 for a Christmas tree, especially in this poor economy.
But families hoping for a homegrown tree to cut down will have a harder time finding one, and dozens of farmers are struggling.
"It's depressing. It really is," said David Barfield, 53, of New Caney, Texas.
He and his wife, Karen, 49, bought their farm about six years ago with dreams of spending their final years peddling Christmas trees. They planted 20 acres of evergreens.
Now, barely two years after Karen Barfield retired to work the farm, she has returned full time to her old job selling explosion-proof enclosures to the oil industry. David Barfield has increased his hours doing part-time electronic work. Instead of selling some 400 homegrown trees, as they do in a good year, they will be lucky to sell 100 — nearly all Frasier firs brought in from North Carolina.
But at least he and his wife have other income. Others have not fared as well.
"We lost probably 90 percent of our trees," said Jean Raisey, 79, who has run a 10-acre Christmas tree farm in Purcell, Okla., with her husband since 1985. The other 10 percent are dying now, she said.
"We've had to hire a contractor and pull all the dead and all the live trees," she said. "And we're out of business."