THE CHRISTMAS TREE INDUSTRY IN THE U.S.A. A STATUS REPORT M. L. McCormack, Jr. and Wolfgang Mieder

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1 THE CHRISTMAS TREE INDUSTRY IN THE U.S.A. A STATUS REPORT M. L. McCormack, Jr. and Wolfgang Mieder There is a wide variation in the volume of Christmas trees produced by individual growers across north America. Some small farm woodlots may produce only 200 to 300 trees per year while there are numerous producers of quantities ranging from 15,000 to 20,000 trees per year and more. Some individual Christmas tree farms have the capability of producing over 100,000 trees in a single season. Some corporate organizations have productions of over 1,000,000 trees per year. With larger producers there is a very significant trend toward more mechanization. This c a l l s for a very well-organized uniform series of plantations so that all cultural practices can be mechanized efficiently and so that trees growing on a given management unit can be harvested within a period of no more than three harvesting seasons. Generally, as the number of frees produced increases the cost of production per tree decreases. However, the use of large-scale mechanization results in production of a very dense, uniform product where the trees tend to lose their individual character. It is the production of the high quality tree that retains its individual character and exhibits a good natural appearance that offers the best opportunity for the small-scale Christmas tree grower./ Where consumers are still interested in a natural appearing tree of high quality there is a place for the grower of small quantities of trees. Often the smaller producer appeals to a specialty-type market. He also has an opportunity to modify his sales methods. For example, the choose-and-cut system of marketing has a great appeal to the public around good marketing areas of high population density. Choose-and-cut marketing provides a maximum financial return for the grower and allows him to incorporate other uses of his forest land. These other uses usually center around some type of recreational activity that allows participation by the entire family. This approach provides a desirable family

2 - 2 - experience and a maximum return on a multiple-use forest management program on the part of the owner. Another modification that is gaining in popularity is the sale of living Christmas trees. This type of a product requires more advanced planning on the part of the grower so that the trees can be excavated and the root systems packaged with soil in a burlap bundle or other suitable container. This type of preparation allows the consumer to use the tree through the Christmas season and then, in areas where weather conditions permit, the tree can be planted as part of the landscaping of the family home or garden area. Some families maintain a collection of their past Christmas trees and identify the trees in their landscape with the various Christmas seasons that they remember back over the years. Successful handling of living Christmas trees is not possible in regions which have severe winter climates. A grower of living Christmas trees has the additional problem of site preparation and maintenance because of the digging of holes in the growing site and the removal of soil and organic matter involved in marketing of the trees. Along with occasional insect and disease problems, a continuing obstacle to efficient Christmas tree management for all producers is the question of land taxation. It is important that the Christmas tree industry maintain good information programs so that legislators responsible for writing and modifying tax laws are aware of the true nature of this special tree crop. In order to maintain good communications with regard to taxes, it is important for Christmas tree growers, or their representatives, to remain politically active so that they are well informed and correct information is disseminated to responsible legislators. Emphasis in production must be constantly on quality because of greater selectivity on the part of consumers and the continuous pressure of the artificial tree. The artificial tree has gained in popularity partly as a result of false

3 - 3 - environmental concerns. Environmentalists stress the opinion that it is not good to cut down trees and, therefore, it is better for consumers to purchase artificial trees in order to save the natural trees in the environment. This, of course, is not true, and public opinion must be corrected. Other problems for the natural tree are restrictions resulting from public fire regulations and the difficulty of disposing of trees after the Christmas season in heavily populated areas. More knowledge Is still needed concerning market patterns, sales techniques, consumer preferences, and handling of cut trees to improve their performance. This latter factor has become of great concern since the 1975 season experienced serious needle loss from trees in use by consumers. Many of these trees that cause problems were considered to be in excellent condition, so it is important that the various factors that determine condition of trees in consumers' homes by studied in more detail. There is now a very strong interest in perfecting techniques of harvesting, packaging, and storage of trees in order to maintain their quality and improve durability. Efficient economic packaging of trees to maintain moisture and foliage condition without allowing mold and mildew to develop is an important component of the entire production system. Because of the period of time necessary to harvest a large quantity of trees before the limited marketing season, storage conditions are a very important step in providing the consumer with a high quality product. Some of the greatest advances in Christmas tree production are being made through genetic tree improvement. Most of the knowledge and effort of tree improvement centers around the major species in use in the north American markets are Douglasie (pseudotsuga menziesii), Waldkiefer (Pinus syivestris), and Balsamtanne (Abies baisamea). Douglasie is gaining in popularity. Other true firs (Z.B. Edeltanne (Abies procera) are increasing in importance in addition to Balsamtanne. In the long-needled trees Weymouthskiefer (Pinus strpbus) is also gaining in importance. Die Fichten (Picea) continue to be significant components

4 - 4 - of the market, and with improvements in needle retention and cultivation of the desirable shape and color, many of the Fichten should gain in popularity on the market. Most planting stock for Christmas tree production is preferable grown from selected seed from individual trees or identified preferred seed sources. Several special Christmas tree strains of various species are now recognized within the industry. Tree selections have been based on a resistance to pests and a desire to retain a natural appearance with improved foliage density that does not require shearing. Production of planting stock is now trending toward special nursery practices which, in some cases, involve plastic greenhouse production. And there is a growing interest in the use of accelerated growth planting stock produced in containers grown under controlled environment conditions. This stock in turn requires special site preparation procedures and usually involves an intensive planting program with specially designed planting machines. The entire planting operation is intended to result in a very uniform spacing of a plantation which w i l l develop and grow in a very uniform way. Along with the site preparation, production programs involve use of fertilizers to improve growth and development, foliage color, tree density, and needle retention. Now recognized as one of the most significant factors in the successful development of a good plantation is a continuous program of weed suppression through use of herbicides and various types of mowing equipment. On good Christmas tree production sites one of the single most significant factors in the success of a plantation is successful, beneficial suppression of weed growth within the planting area. The uniformity of plantation development is important for efficient application of cultural treatments, pest control, and mechanized harvesting of the trees, but in the case of choose-and-cut operations it is usually desirable to have a diversity in development in order to provide a more aesthetically desirable environment for the consumer family activity of choosing and cutting their Christmas tree.

5 - 5 - Shearing practices are still considered essential in most production areas in order to achieve desirable shape and density of the final product. Shearing usually involves a modification of the outer branch structure of the tree using head shears, small clipping shears, special knives or more recently, various types of mechanized power shears, some of which operate electrically from power sources on tractor equipment. Shearing is undoubtedly the most expensive cultural treatment involved in the production of Christmas trees and would be the procedure most desirable to avoid. The cost of producing Christmas trees is a very difficult figure to determine and there is a wide variation according to species produced, location of the production area, and the size of the production by an individual grower. In general terms a tree can be produced for about $1 to $4 per tree and they are eventually sold on the retail market at prices commonly ranging from $6 to $15. In some special cases in very good markets the retail price w i l l range up to $30 or $40. The length of time necessary to produce a good tree of two to two-and-ahalf meters in height w i l l usually average 10 years but with good production practices quality trees can now be produced in approximately 6 years after planting. It is important to strive for as short a rotation period as possible in order to maximize financial return and to reduce the risks to which the trees are exposed during their growing period. The number of trees produced per unit of land area w i l l also vary according to species and appropriate spacings as well as the pattern of road systems. A well-planned road system is particularly important to successful production allowing for access to the trees for cultural practices, treatment for pest problems, and especially for efficient harvest. Allowing for variations in spacing and road systems, it is reasonable to assume a production of 1900 to 2400 trees per hectare in each rotation. A very important part of the Christmas tree industry in the United States

6 - 6 - is the number of active grower organizations. There are now at least 32 of the contiguous 48 states represented as smaller, state-oriented organizations within the National Christmas Tree Association. These groups provide an opportunity for growers to maintain communications with one another, compare experiences, and develop programs for production practices as well as marketing. It provides a means for dissemination of research information and various aspects of comparing costs. These groups also provide a mechanism for public relations programs and information dissemination programs in order to keep the p u b l i c and legislators informed. Every two years a national convention is held at a different location around the United States. The most recent convention was held in August 1976 in Holland, Michigan and was attended by over 1000 Christmas tree growers and associated industry people from all over the United States and Canada. As a point of information, the next national convention w i l l be held in Amherst, Massachusetts, not far from the city of Boston, during August of 1978.

7 CAPTIONS FOR FIGURES Abb. I. Large mistblower apparatus for spreading chemicals through a Christmas tree plantation Abb. 2. Site preparation for removing brush and unharvested trees Abb. 3. After treatment by equipment in Abb. 2. Abb. 4. Special tractor equipment for treating plantations up to two meters in height Abb. 5. Sheared Weymouthskiefer, an award winning contest tree Abb. 6. Sheared Douglasie, an award winning contest tree

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