Christmas tree farms declining across Indiana

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HANOCK COUNTY, Ind. — A new study shows Hoosiers may have fewer options when it comes to a holiday tradition as Christmas tree farms face a tough future.

Spend enough time with Bob Wendt and its obvious, he loves what he does. For the past 35 years, Wendt has owned the Lost 40 Tree Farm, supplying Christmas trees to thousands, though lately, times have been a little rough.

“If it weren`t for the droughts and floods we`d probably have at least 5-10 times more trees growing on the property right now,” Wendt said.

He`s not alone. New research by IU says Indiana Christmas tree farms are going by the wayside, with a 40 percent decrease in farms since 2002.

“All the growers lost terrible amount of trees this year,” Wendt said, “and we wish there was a government program to help us, but there isn’t.”

A cycle of droughts and a wet spring hurt farmers this year, but IU`s study says farmers aging out of the business with no replacements, and difficulty with growing the varieties that have become popular in recent years have taken a huge toll on the industry.

“Instead of large farmers producing thousands and thousands of trees, it’s going down to much smaller, more focused operations with just a few acres producing trees,” Jeff Koning of the Indiana Christmas Trees Growers Association said.

It’s not an issue of consumer interest. Koning says real Christmas trees are still high in demand, the business just needs help.

“We would like to have more farmers and more farmers producing more trees,” Koning said.

The study, however, estimated more framers will stop planting in the coming years, meaning its likely many trees in Hoosier will come from outside the state. As for Wendt, his farm will only be able to sell about 500 trees this year. In years past, it was thousands.

He and others like him will hold on for as long as they can. It’s a labor of love, with an emphasis on the love

“Just look around, who would want to live anywhere but here? I’m the lucky guy,” Wendt said.

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