Thoughts of Yuletide and climate change don't usually go hand-in-hand, but the state's Christmas trees are not immune to the threats.  

Fraser firs are a major cash crop in western North Carolina. They're native to the peaks of the southern Appalachians, but farmers have increasingly brought them to lower elevations to grow.

And that can make them more vulnerable. Jeff Owen is a North Carolina State University expert on the Christmas tree industry. He says increased rainfall in recent years is already taking a toll.

“Last year, mountain counties that typically get somewhere in the 40 to 60 inches of rain per year [range] received in excess of 120 inches,” he says. “That puts our mountain region in the temperate rainforest category, and it wreaked havoc on a lot of crops including Christmas trees.”

It's not just that things are warmer and wetter, it's that the weather has become more variable. Jim Hamilton, with the Watauga County extension office, says that throws off the trees' natural cycle and creates uncertainty for growers.

“It's the extremes that you really can't prepare too much for as a production farmer, but it's something you definitely worry about,” he says.

Hamilton says root rot, bug infestation, heat, and drought are all potential threats that could damage the state's Christmas tree crop.

Reporter Eddie Garcia contributed to this story.

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