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Christmas tree farmers battle dry conditions to provide festive cheer

By Helen Frost, Saturday December 1, 2018 - 11:27 EDT
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A lack of rain has meant there could be a future shortage of Christmas trees in South Australia. - ABC

Finding the perfect Christmas tree might be on the cards for some families this weekend, but spare a thought for growers who have been battling to keep their crops — and Christmas hopes — alive.



Some growers are only taking walk-in customers and have stopped offering deliveries due to the number of early customers who have already reserved a tree.

Drought conditions across the east coast of the country and parts of South Australia have hurt farmers this year.

The weather was hot and dry in January and February and Henry Saundry noticed the drought-tolerant trees were turning, which meant they were drying out and there was not enough moisture in the soil.

"They've gotten past that point of any tolerance that we had to be out there by hand and watering and going to irrigation just to try and save the saplings and some of the older trees this year," Mr Saundry said.

Mr Saundry said it could take at least two to three years for the younger trees to recover at their Chandler Hills farm, south of Adelaide.



"Due to the late rain it's a lot of extra work to reshape them, we've also had to be a lot more strategic about where we harvest from," he said.

Farmers prepare for another baking summer

It was a similar story for other growers in the region.

Kim Kemeny inherited the Christmas Tree Plantation from his father and moved all of his trees from Coromandel Valley to Clarendon due to the higher rainfall the property usually received, but that has changed in recent years.

"This year I planted 120 saplings and only 20 of them survived, you can see how dry the soil is, there's no moisture," Mr Kemeny said.

The Bureau of Meteorology has forecast hot and dry conditions for summer and the start of 2019.

If that's the case, Mr Kemeny said he would need to consider a significant investment just to keep his trees alive.

"I'd have to put in automatic irrigation and put in extra rainwater tank capacity as well just to be able to supply the needs of the trees here," he said.

"I'd have to truck water in as well as I'm not connected to the mains here."

Despite the conditions, there are still Christmas trees to choose from, but they might not be as thick or dense as they have been in the past.

And it hasn't put off people like Michael Burford.



He brings his family — with children Archer, Scarlett, Easton and Huxley — to the Chandler Hills farm every year.

"I feel like it's a really good experience getting a live one because you can go see them all, go for a hunt through the forest," Scarlett said.

"I feel like it brings the family together."


- ABC

© ABC 2018

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