“It is a terrific amount of work”: Growing Christmas trees in Iowa

FAIRBANK, Iowa (KWWL) – Many of you may be looking for the perfect Christmas tree to bring home, but you may not realize how difficult the Christmas tree business is for many farmers across the country.

GROWING CHRISTMAS TREES IN IOWA

Bob Moulds owns Wapsie Pines Christmas Tree Farm in Fairbank, a 27-acre farm that houses more than 30,000 live Christmas trees.

Each customer is invited to cut their own tree before bringing it home.

Moulds has been growing Christmas trees for nearly four decades.

“It’s a family experience. That’s what the farm is geared to be,” Moulds said. “We have some land here that’s very sandy soil that works very very good for Christmas trees.”

He said on average, only one in every 10 Christmas tree farmers will bring their trees to market. Many give up because the challenges are too difficult to overcome.

“It is a terrific amount of work,” he said.

RUNNING INTO BAD LUCK

While Moulds was on pace for what he calls a record-setting year, he was forced to shut his business down a couple weeks earlier than usual.

After days and weeks of heavy rain this fall, Moulds said 250 of his trees were killed. He said they were already seven to eight feet tall.

Christmas trees take about eight years to grow, but taller ones can take up to 12 years, according to Moulds. During that time, farmers battle everything from weather to weed control issues.

“Even after they survive, every tree doesn’t make a good Christmas tree, so we use a lot of them to make wreaths and roping,” he said.

THE PLANTING PROCESS

While some people enjoy picking out the perfect Christmas tree a few days after Thanksgiving, the planting process begins long before the customers arrive at the farm.

Moulds said he plants about 4,000 new trees each year after the snow melts. But only half of them survive.

He and his team plant each new tree about one foot away from each old stump to make the most use of their land.

At Wapsie Tree Farm, Moulds grows four major varieties of Christmas trees.

FOR THE LOVE OF FARMING

While the Christmas tree business is difficult and unforgiving at times, Moulds said he is used to the inconsistency.

“This is a tree farm. This is farming. It’s disappointing because it isn’t consistent, but it never will be. We just deal with it,” he said with a chuckle.

Moulds said he is a part of the Iowa Christmas Tree Growers Association. He said 20 years ago, there were 140 farmers in the group. Now, he said there’s only about 70 represented.

Moulds said he’s made many mistakes over the years, but the 71-year-old said he loves farming and hopes to do it for as long as he can.

“I like it and I want to stay in shape,” he said. “I want to do something that keeps me outdoors and exercising. I like my trees.”

Olivia Schmitt

Olivia Schmitt

Morning Reporter at KWWL
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