A Growing Business

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This is a busy time of year for Simmons Oak Farms, according to Audrey Hooks.

Audrey manages the business alongside her mother, Beth. Located north of the Harlingen airport, Simmons Oak Farms grows a variety of shade trees and palm trees and wholesales them to major cities and landscaping businesses across the state.

The process to grow a tree, Audrey explained, is one that can take years. Simmons Oak Farms grows the trees from seedlings before potting them and finally planting them in their field, where they can stay for as long as 10 years.

“Lately, we’ve been busy nonstop,” Audrey said. “The warmer months are when palms sell all summer long. Now we’re heading to the fall, when people will buy and install the shade trees. We stay busy year-round since we sell as much as 10,000 trees a year.”

Simmons Oak Farms is so busy, Audrey said, that as of July, they sold not only the trees the business was projected to see in 2021 but have also started selling the trees projected to be sold in 2022.

While most businesses would be overjoyed at the booming sales, Audrey expressed concern for the future of not just her business, but the nursing industry as a whole.

According to Audrey, Simmons Oak Farms has been inundated with orders like never before in the farm’s 19-year history. They and other growers have been affected by Winter Storm Uri, which in February literally froze much of Texas for nearly a week and shut down the electric grid.

A March report from the Texas Nursery & Landscape Association and AgriLife Extension found that the storm produced $600 million in agricultural losses throughout the state.

For Simmons Oak Farms, the storm led to a loss of 10% of the farm’s crop.

“Most of the trees we grow survived,” Audrey said. “We did have some varieties of palm trees that were lost or so severely damaged we had to trim them down for them to flesh out again before we can sell them.”

With so many plants throughout the state dying, however, growers like Simmons Oak Farms are rushing to keep up with the demand.

“So when every homeowner or business is replacing their dead plants, you can imagine the kind of rush and pressure of the marker,” Audrey said. “What would normally take us three weeks to complete an order is taking us months now. Our harvest schedule is full. It is unprecedented, but it’s not just us; it’s every single grower we know here who are feeling the pinch.”

Audrey says that due to how long it takes for trees to grow, she expects this impact to be felt far in the future.

“For years to come, our inventory will be low and struggle to catch up,” she said. “It takes a while for trees to grow in size. As a grower, it’s a good time for us because of the sales, but there’s pressure on all of us. We’re even struggling to find enough employees to meet the demands for a wide variety of reasons.”

Despite the struggle, Audrey considers herself lucky that her business wasn’t severely impacted by the winter. Last year’s Hurricane Hanna, she recalled, was more damaging to her crop.

“The 70 mile-per-hour hurricane winds laid down a lot of trees,” Audrey said. “It was a long process to rehabilitate them to get their roots to grow straight again so the trees could stand upright. When you’re in farming, you can never predict the weather; you just have to take it as it comes and respond after the fact and make the best of it.”

Jose De Leon III