- Associated Press - Sunday, December 6, 2015

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - Oklahoma’s Christmas tree farms expect to have a good sales year after fully rebounding from several years without rain, producers said.

Trees that survived the drought have filled out nicely in time for harvest, and customers probably won’t even notice a difference, said Steven Wilkinson, owner of Wilkinson Christmas Forest in Tahlequah.

The Journal Record (http://bit.ly/1QitlQC ) reports that tree farming requires several years of patient investment before realizing a payoff, so this year’s stock reveals the damage done in 2011, 2012 and 2013 - in other words, less stock of trees in the size range. Heavy rains across the state this year compounded the problem by leaving some regions standing in too much water, he said, which introduced the problem of fungus hitting roots.

“I would plant 1,000 trees and maybe 50 survived back then. If they made it through that harsh weather, they were good. But it was a period of heavy loss,” he said. “Fortunately, the trees we planted this year are looking fine. Of course, it’ll be about five years before they’re ready to harvest, but that’s just the nature of the business.”

Jerry Adams, co-owner of Janda Bend Christmas Tree Farm near Stilwell, found himself in a similar situation. His first plantings were in 2001, and he opened for business in 2004. A few years later, he found himself struggling with irrigation because his operations didn’t have easy access to power. Solar-driven well pumps allowed him to drip-irrigate uphill, which helped him save more of his trees.

While Wilkinson and Adams were preparing their small farms for the busiest sales day of the year, John Knight at the 40-acre Sorghum Mill Tree Farm in Edmond was already tying lumber to car roofs. Knight said he decided to open early this year to compensate for bad weather forecasts for the Thanksgiving weekend.

Knight said he didn’t have the same problem that some of his industry friends struggled with because he aggressively irrigated his crop throughout the drought. That means he has also enjoyed a higher ratio of saplings making it to full size, which helps justify the expense.

“This year was one of the best growing seasons we’ve had in a while,” Knight said. “I think most of us have done pretty well this year - a chicken in every pot. We’ve got plenty for customers to pick from,” Knight said.

Knight’s choose-and-cut farm sells several thousand trees every year, about 60 percent of which he grows himself. The top-selling Oklahoma-grown Christmas trees typically are Virginia pine and Scotch pine. To provide other popular varieties, he buys from producers elsewhere in the country. This year he’s noticed drought impact in the Pacific Northwest supplies.

One tree in particular remains unpopular, however, even though it’s abundantly available in Oklahoma, and Knight doesn’t foresee that ever changing: Eastern red cedars. Knight said he tends to foster a few red cedars on his property on the off chance someone will want one, but feedback is always negative.

Knight said the plant doesn’t seem to have the sap necessary to maintain moist freshness once it’s cut; it dries out quickly.

The red cedar is considered by many to be nothing more than an opportunistic water sponge and threat to the state’s agricultural economy. Legislators keep proposing programs to help eradicate the tree.

The state Department of Agriculture website shows where seasonal tree farm businesses are located.

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Information from: The Journal Record, http://www.journalrecord.com

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