Christmas trees in Kansas are a sturdy lot, growers say

11/26/2012 12:07 AM

11/26/2012 9:06 AM

The 9-foot-tall Christmas tree standing in the governor’s Cedar Crest mansion had its roots in Derby soil for about a decade.

And like many of the trees offering a piney scent to Kansas homes, it survived one of the state’s worst droughts.

Windy Knoll Tree Farm donated the Scotch pine, which is worth about $75. The farm cut it down Tuesday evening before hauling it to Topeka where it rode in a horse-drawn buggy to Gov. Sam Brownback’s doorstep before being decorated by volunteers.

They’ll light it Monday during a presentation of the state holiday ornament.

Meanwhile, the Capitol got its own tree – a 14-foot Scotch pine from Country Christmas Trees in Wakarusa – that was lit Friday.

The Kansas Christmas Tree Growers Association has two meetings each year, rotating among roughly 40 farms in the membership. Whoever hosts the summer meeting gets to donate a tree to the governor.

Last year, Brownback’s administration decided to keep the live tree outside because of how it interpreted state fire codes. But, after deeper review, the administration determined Cedar Crest is a private residence and can have a living tree. It also determined that the Capitol, which also had to keep the tree outside, can have an indoor living tree because it has the required sprinkler system, according to Brownback spokeswoman Sherriene Jones-Sontag.

While serving as the governor’s ringing in of the Christmas season, the tree delivery also sheds light on the state’s tree industry.

With the historically terrible drought, raising trees hasn’t been easy – especially trees that aren’t native to Kansas.

Last summer’s baking temperatures and lack of rain killed off some trees that didn’t already have a good start or a lot of irrigation to help them along, farmers say.

That could increase costs for some farmers. But it comes with the trade, and it won’t necessarily translate to higher costs for families shopping for trees.

Susan and Bob Grelinger started Windy Knoll Tree Farm in 1979, and they began selling trees mostly to friends in the early 1980s as a way to raise a little money for their kids’ college funds. The business kept growing from there.

“Most tree farmers are trying to keep prices so that someplace in the field there’s the perfect tree for a family that can’t pay big bucks for a Christmas tree,” Susan said. “We’re not always in it for the money, we try to make some good memories.”

Willy Goevert, owner of the 4 C Tree Farm in southeast Wichita, said he lost some Scotch pine trees along a hedgerow. He doesn’t irrigate. But he said he had some good fortune when he planted about 400 trees and it rained the next day.

“Maybe eight or 10 died,” said Goevert, who has been tree farming for 34 years. “We lost some trees, but I think that’s part of the program. You just have to expect it. As all farmers are, we’re all gamblers.”

Overall, he said, the drought probably won’t affect his bottom line much. But time will tell.

“Call me in January, and I’ll tell you,” he said.

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