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.
SAUCIER, Miss. -- Larry Haley has no problem selling his Christmas trees each November.
In fact, he has to set a limit on how many he can spare and stop once he reaches that number to maintain a steady inventory. His target this year is about 300 choose-and-cut trees before Thanksgiving.
"A couple of years ago, I got in trouble because I sold too many in one season and almost depleted the next year's stock," he said. "Last year, we started holding fields back for a season so that doesn’t happen again."
SAUCIER, Miss. -- Christmas tree growers in Mississippi expect a 7 percent increase in sales this year, but unfavorable spring and fall weather may hurt future supplies.
Stephen Dicke, a forestry professor with the Mississippi State University Extension Service, said growers successfully controlled insect and disease problems this year. However, a wet spring followed by a dry summer and early fall caused some growers to lose up to half of their 1-year-old trees.
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- According to the National Christmas Tree Association, American consumers purchase nearly 30 million real trees annually from one of more than 15,000 Christmas tree farms. Real-tree enthusiasts cite three main reasons for their yearly choice: tradition, fresh pine scent and appearance.
Selecting a real tree is also an environmentally friendly choice. Real Christmas trees are 100 percent biodegradable and can be recycled in a variety of ways.
The National Christmas Tree Association offers these little-known facts about real trees:
RAYMOND -- Consumers who want Mississippi-grown Christmas trees to deck their halls should shop early for the best selection every year.
“Choose-and-cut Christmas tree production in Mississippi is fairly flat because there are growers each year who retire,” said Stephen Dicke, a forestry professor with the Mississippi State University Extension Service. “Growers still in the business are producing more trees each year, but demand in heavily populated counties is much higher than the supply of trees.”
I hope everyone has Christmas traditions that their family looks forward to each year. One of the traditions I enjoyed growing up in the Great White North was going to get the Christmas tree.
Sometimes we went to one of tree lots that sprang up on corners like cold-weather weeds. Other times we drove out to the country and picked a tree to cut. It was like going hunting and bringing back the bounty. I grew up bringing home Fraser fir, balsam fir or Colorado blue spruce.