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Growers Rejoice Over Christmas Tree Crops
By Dawn R. Hanna
STARKVILLE -- Mississippi Christmas tree growers welcome this year's crop with anticipation for a happy holiday season.
"Overall the crop looks great in spite of the drought," said Dr. Steve Dicke, extension forestry specialist in Raymond. "A few growers experienced some disease problems, but the outcome of the crop in general is outstanding."
Last year 220,000 Mississippi-grown trees were sold for about $5.2 million.
"Growers expect sales to be as good or better than last year," Dicke said.
The main species sold in the state include Virginia pine, Leyland cypress and eastern redcedar. Although the late summer drought affected most other crops in the state, Christmas tree growers had little problem with the drought.
Wallace Swedenburg, a Columbus grower, said the crop is in excellent condition and looks fantastic.
"It was very hot in late July and early August which slowed down the growth a bit, but this really had no effect on the crop," said Swedenburg. "The Virginia pines are still growing so they have literally absorbed the 5 to 6 inches of rain we've received lately."
Florence grower Ben Moseley said despite a few losses, it has been a good year with some trees showing growth late in the season.
"We lost some Leyland cypress seedlings to drought because we did not have irrigation," said Moseley. "The Virginia pines have responded well to the late season rain which will aid harvest and help the trees stay greener in homes."
Dicke said the Leyland cypress trees usually are harvested at three years of age, so the loss of Leyland cypress seedlings this year will influence sales during 1997.
State Christmas tree grower numbers have declined sharply in the past 10 years. Mississippi had 450 Christmas tree growers in 1985, and currently there are only 150 growers scattered in about 50 counties throughout Mississippi.
Dicke said the trees are hard to grow and difficult to market well. Mississippi growers primarily operate choose-and-cut operations.
Growers harvest most Christmas trees at three to five years of age. The trees are sheared and pruned twice a year to keep them in shape.
Grower Michael May of Chunky, said the trees look a little better this year.
"The trees are bushier and are filling out nicely. We feel very positive about this year's crop," said May. "I think the condition of the this year's trees has more to do with shearing than anything else."
The average Christmas tree is 6 to 7 feet tall and will cost between $20 and $28. For taller trees and Leyland cypress trees, consumers can expect to pay at least $5 per foot.
Dicke said the eastern redcedar was the original Mississippi Christmas tree at one time. This is the tree families would go choose and cut from their pastureland.
"That's why the choose-and-cut operations are so popular," said Dicke. "Families are still able to hold on to tradition and enjoy all the things the holiday season brings."