THORNTOWN - Christmas tree farms across Indiana will be busy Friday as families switch from Thanksgiving celebrations to the next big holiday. But Hoosiers might find their favorite tree farm closed this year.

A study by Indiana University shows a 40 percent decrease in the number of Indiana Christmas tree farms since 2002.

Associate Professor James Farmer of the IU O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs conducted the research and says he expects the decline to continue.

“It looks like in the next five years or so, about 17 to 18 percent of the growers that we surveyed in Indiana, which represents the majority of Christmas tree operations in the state, will stop planting trees," Farmer said.

He says those growers will continue to maintain the trees and sell for several years, but they won’t be planting additional trees that take six-to-seven years to mature before harvesting.

Farmer says Indiana is outpacing the national decline of tree farm operations. According to U.S. Department of Agriculture data, there has been a 27 percent decrease in farms harvesting Christmas trees from 2002 to 2017.

Tom Dull, who co-owns Dull’s Christmas Tree farm in Thorntown with his wife Kerry, will open their gates for this season on Friday. He says the reason for the dwindling number of tree farms is the retirement of baby boomers who grow trees.

“Tree farmers are aging out, and they don’t have anybody to come back and take over the farm,” said Dull. “Our son and daughter in law came back to the farm full time so they’re going to carry the business on which is great for us and great for our customers.”

Professor Farmer says while the number of tree farms is shrinking in Indiana, consumer demand for real trees remains stable.

However, consumers are often looking for what Farmer calls "trendy trees," such as the short-needle varieties like firs and spruces. But those varieties are tougher to grow in Indiana and must be shipped in from Michigan, Pennsylvania or North Carolina. 

The Dull’s planted their first Christmas tree in 1985 and now 34 years later, Tom Dull offers this piece of advice: because of the scarcity of certain varieties, don’t wait for the last minute to get a tree.

“You might have to set your sights lower on quality, height or size, or even change the desired species. There’ll be a tree for everybody, but it may not be the one that you set out to bring home.”

And because of demand, Dull says prices will be higher this season.