The Land: Lack of rain impacting Christmas trees.

July 8, 2020

Ben Nickelson

The Land: Lack of rain impacting Christmas trees.

The Land is a series telling the stories about local agriculture. It is a presentation of Peterson Farms, Inc.

By Kate Krieger-Watkins, Staff Writer.

AMBER TWP – With the weather reaching the upper 80s and into the 90s, farmers across Mason County and other parts of Michigan have been dealing with many problems, but the number one issue they’ve been facing has been the lack of rain. 

One farm that has been experiencing this dry weather and its effects is Needlefast Evergreens, located on Hansen Road. Owners Ben Nickelson and his father, Jim having been working countless hours, along with their staff to try and make sure they don’t lose much more of their inventory of Christmas trees. 

“It was a great year up until two or three weeks ago,” Ben said. “I had gotten a lot of rain. It was great planting weather.”

Needlefast boasts a nursery of about 40 acres, where it grows about 45 different varieties of trees and 400 acres of leased property, where it grows and harvests Christmas trees. The nursery has its own irrigation system, so those seedlings haven’t been as affected as the evergreens in the leased fields.

“The Christmas trees need about one inch of rain per week,” Ben said. “The bigger trees have larger root systems, so you’d think they’d make it. This warmer weather has made them droopy and hard to trim. We would be out trimming around this time, but you can’t. We have been surprised at how fast they’re wilting when they don’t have water on them.”

Jim said the trees grow in quite sandy soil, which is good when it rains, but can dry out very quickly when there’s no moisture.

In comparison to last year, because it was such a wet year, Ben said that they really only had to water the tree during a two week stretch. 

On an average day, the amount of water used to grow the trees in the nursery is quite amazing. It produces 350 gallons/minute, 21,000 gallons/hour and around 250,000 gallons/day, if it’s a 12-hour day.

“We have irrigation systems that we take into the fields and we have a 1,000-gallon tanker to go give the trees a little replenishment,” Ben said. “But by the time we would go and water all the trees, we’d be right back needing to start all over again.”

Two summers ago, the farm lost about 1,000 trees due to weather conditions and this year looks very similar or maybe even worse, Jim said.

“About 1,000 of the 3-foot and taller trees were lost,” he said. “I’m guessing we’re already down 1,000 this week. Already being down in that many trees is not good. Some we will be able to save, but we will have lost a decent percentage once it’s all said and done.”

The weather forecast does not look good for the next few weeks for farmers either. With temperatures remaining high and the rain not really heading this way, watering will need to continue to keep crops alive through this mid-summer drought.

“The forecast is not looking good,” Jim said. “They’re calling for rain, but it’s supposed to be spotty. We need a good soaking. An inch would be helpful, but at this point, we need like two to three inches.”

Although it is only July and Christmas is still months away, making sure their customers are happy with their selection of trees when it does roll around is very important to the Nickelsons.

“Whatever happens, we will figure out ways to get trees to people,” Ben said. “Everyone just needs the rain. This part of July is usually the time when the tap turns off. It just started a lot earlier this year.”

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