Gathering around a Christmas tree with family to celebrate Christmas together is a tradition dating back to the 1500s. Since 1977, Mississippi Christmas tree growers have provided a large number of the trees used locally each year. In 1997, approximately 245,000 trees were sold with a retail value of $7.5 million. About 95 percent of production is on choose-and-cut Christmas tree farms. These farms are oriented to their local markets. The species of trees grown in Mississippi do not allow growers to market trees in retail lots nor to market trees to other states and countries.
Peak production occurred in Mississippi in 1985. We had 450 Christmas tree farms producing 330,000 trees. In 1997, the total number of farms was down to 170. A national oversupply of trees the past 10+ years drove most of our growers out of business. Surviving growers are very competitive and produce high quality trees at low prices. Production has crept up slightly since 1993 when production hit a low of 200,000 trees.
New species, especially Leyland Cypress, have breathed new life into the Christmas tree industry. Virginia pine has proven itself to be difficult to grow and only marginally profitable. Growers produce a wide variety of species to satisfy customers. For example, a small farm in central Mississippi sells three species choose-and-cut: Virginia Pine, Leyland Cypress, and Eastern Redcedar. In addition, the farm sells several species as living Christmas trees (landscape trees in grow-bags): Leyland Cypress (several varieties), Deodar Cedar, Burkii Cedar, Foster's Holly, Red Leaf Holly Hybrids, and Carolina Sapphire. Future production in Mississippi promises to be even more diverse in species and lean towards the living Christmas tree / landscape tree.
CHUNKY, Miss. -- The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted countless traditions in 2020, but it will not keep living rooms across Mississippi from featuring Christmas decor, nor will it deter customer demand for fresh trees.
In fact, business is booming at farms that have opened for the season, said Southern Christmas Tree Association President Michael May.
“Where are all the bucks?”
Several years ago, Larry Castle, formerly of Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks (MDWFP), and Steve Demarais of the Mississippi State University Deer Lab got together to discuss what could be done to address deer hunter questions and concerns regarding where bucks were going during hunting season. For years, Larry and his team at MDWFP would get questions from hunters who were frustrated with not seeing the deer they think they should be seeing.
Choosing, cutting, and bringing home a real Christmas tree is a fun, family tradition that makes memories to last a lifetime. If you plan to have a real tree this year, be sure to observe some safety rules.
Mississippians pondering ideas for a side business could consider investing in land and planting stem cuttings of Leyland and Murray cypress trees.
Mississippians looking for locally grown Christmas trees have several varieties to choose from but should be prepared to shop early for the best selection.
John Kushla, a Mississippi State University Extension Service specialist and research professor who specializes in agroforestry and Christmas trees, said there are several ways to test for freshness when choosing the perfect tree at a tree farm.