Bumper sales, terrific crops and an alumnus tree grower had the honor of sending his best Fraser fir to the White House. That’s this year’s big Christmas tree industry news in North Carolina, the nation’s second largest Christmas tree producer after Oregon. NC State Forestry Extension Specialist Jeffrey Owen, wraps up the year for one of the state’s more buoyant industries.
What’s exciting this year in the Christmas tree industry?
The big news is for the 12th time North Carolina has sent a Fraser fir to the White House. President Obama and Michelle Obama received their 19-foot tree around Thanksgiving from Peak Farms in Ashe County, which is owned by Rusty and Beau Estes, a graduate from NC State’s Agricultural Institute. The father-and-son team won the North Carolina Christmas Tree Association Competition and then won the national competition.
How are North Carolina growers performing this year versus previous years?
We’ve had a good crop that went to market – almost all the trees have been shipped. Anecdotally we hear growers reporting an increase in sales over last year. The National Christmas Tree Association’s annual consumer poll tracked 30.8 million fresh trees purchased last year versus 9.5 million fake trees. North Carolina is home to 1,600 Christmas tree growers producing 5 million trees a year. This is a terrific industry for our state.
What are some of the industry challenges?
The industry is challenged by an increase in consumers not putting up a tree at all and stiffer competition from the artificial tree. Marketing has been an ongoing challenge for the Christmas tree industry. Overall however, there is a loyal audience and customer base for the real Christmas tree, led by Fraser firs.
What are some pointers for keeping Christmas trees safe in our homes?
Christmas trees are perishable and need regular water. Typically fresh Christmas trees can take up to half their weight in water. Check your electric tree lights for safety and have the retailer make a fresh cut on the base of the tree to help the wood better absorb water. Keep your tree away from a fireplace or other heating sources to avoid drying out the tree.
What is your current research?
I research the post-harvest quality of Christmas trees and evaluate their storage conditions. Palletized storage of Christmas trees is a new trend for larger wholesale customers like Wal-Mart and Home Depot. (Chain stores made up 16 percent of last year’s fresh tree sales.) We’ve also been researching the influence of farm storage and how varying cutting dates impact greenery quality. We are always working to improve the post-harvest quality and safety of our trees.