WELLS, Maine — The last year has not been kind for Ryan Liberty or the dozens of other Christmas tree farmers across the state of Maine. Severe drought has made it incredibly hard for the 55-year-old tree farmer to keep his 3,000 Balsam firs from going dry.
“It’s not a short game; it’s a long game and you gotta love it,” Liberty said standing between rows of trees on his farm in Wells, Maine.
Balsam firs grow about one foot per year. Most people want a tree that’s between 6 and 7 feet tall, which means from the time a sapling is put in the ground, it could be nearly seven years before it can be cut and sold to a customer.
“We’re thinking about decades from now, the trees we’ll have,” said Liberty, who also serves with the Maine Christmas Tree Association.
Across most of the U.S., this year has not been merry or bright for Christmas tree farmers. Here in Wells, Maine, six of the last eight years have been a severe drought. To save the saplings he planted in the spring, Liberty had to water each one by hand this summer.
While most of us are thinking about Christmas presents, it’s Christmas' future Ryan Liberty is concerned about. Because the trees we’ll need 10 years from now are the ones growing right now. That will likely mean you’ll continue to see higher prices and lower inventory.
“Drought continues to be a concern, especially for a small guy like me, because it doesn’t make sense for me to spend tens of thousands of dollars on irrigation,” he added.
That’s not to say there won’t be enough Christmas trees to go around next year. Like Santa, Liberty just says you’ll have to check your list once or twice.
“It might not be the first farm you go to or call or even the second one, but there will be a tree for you to bring home to your family," he said.