Hotter, drier Indiana climate damaging popular Christmas tree variety

Bloomington farmer getting out of tree business

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. - A Bloomington farmer says climate change is killing off a popular type of Christmas tree in Indiana, so he's dumping Christmas trees and switching to a different crop. 

Greg Fowler's family has been growing Christmas trees in Bloomington for more than 60 years.

He said the Fraser fir has been by far his best seller, because it has soft needles, strong branches and a nice smell, but now he can't keep them alive because of heat and drought.

"What we're seeing here is where the tree has died from the top," said Fowler, looking at a tree filled with dead, brown needles. "And it's coming down. It's still alive on the bottom, but once that they start turning brown, any amount in there, the tree's going to die, no matter what."

Fowler said these trees fare better in cooler, wetter climates, but until recently, he could grow them in Indiana.

But he said the trees simply don't tolerate the hot and dry conditions that now seem to be the norm in Indiana.

"In the last four years to five, it's been dry. There's no humidity for them to get any moisture whatsoever," he said. "And once it gets above 85 degrees, that's when it really starts taking effect on them."

Lindsey Purcell, a forester with the Purdue Extension Service, said growing zones are changing drastically because of climate change.

He said shallow-rooted plants like the Fraser fir, which thrive in cool, moist growing conditions, are being pushed north, in some cases completely out of Indiana.

Fowler's brother-in-law, Gary Carpenter, helps with the business.

He said Fraser firs go for $10 a foot.

When a 10-foot tree turns brown, that's a hundred-dollar loss, and the other species don't produce enough profit to keep them in business.

"I'd say it's a part of global warming, sure," said Carpenter. "You know, over the last few years, you get virtually very little winter. And it has to be attributable to global warming as far as I'm concerned."

Fowler said he's going to stay in the Christmas tree business for about another three years, until the hardier but less profitable species that are now growing reach full size and can be sold. 

But after that, he's switching to pumpkins, which he said survive better in this climate. 

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