Originally created 11/25/03

Drought's end improves Christmas tree looks this year



COLUMBIA, S.C. -- As the holidays approach, many South Carolina families spend their weekends at cut-your-own tree lots around the state, hiking through rows of trees to find just the right pine, cedar or cypress to saw down and haul back to their car. Others go for the precut Douglas firs, mostly imported from North Carolina.

Gov. Mark Sanford, his wife Jenny and their four sons headed to a Gilbert tree farm Monday to cut down their own Christmas tree for the Governor's mansion.

This year's Christmas season is something to behold, says Dale Taylor, president of the South Carolina Christmas Tree Association.

"The drought has eased up and the trees have grown more this year than in previous years," Taylor said. "It's going to be a good season," he said.

"This year we finally got ample rain at the proper time," said Marshall Moore, who runs Seekhaven Farm in lower Richland County. "The trees actually look a lot better this year," Moore said.

Around the nation, Christmas tree growers like Taylor and Moore say they expect a good holiday season.

- In Michigan, Ron Cochrane of Cochrane Tree Co. has been selling Christmas trees since 1959. "It's been a perfect year for us," he said. Cool, rainy weather in recent weeks nurtured the 45,000 trees he expects to ship, he said.

- Around the Mid-Atlantic, Christmas tree farmers expect a more vibrant crop after average spring and summer rainfall.

- In Oregon, which produces more Christmas trees than any other state, growers were expecting higher prices as supplies fell.

Moore worries his offerings won't be as good next year. Five dry years marked by deep drought took a toll on trees, he said. That could mean fewer quality trees ready for harvest next year, he said.

But Taylor, who owns Christmas Pines Tree Farms in Mountville, said most consumers probably won't even notice drought effects next year when they head to the woods with a saw. And he expects no shortages.

Right now, the biggest threat to Christmas tree growers isn't the weather, Taylor said. This threat can be found on department store shelves - plastic trees in boxes.

On the Net:

South Carolina Christmas Tree Association http://www.scchristmastrees.org/