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Christmas tree growers expect sales to increase
By Patti Drapala
MSU Ag Communications
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Mississippi Christmas tree growers will probably see their sales increase again this year as more people stay home to celebrate the holidays.
Current economic problems have forced many people to tighten their budgets, resulting in less travel. Families who stay home still want a festive celebration, and natural Christmas trees offer a traditional touch.
“When the downturn hit last year, people did not travel, which gave them time to plan an old- fashioned holiday with a traditional tree,” said area forestry specialist Stephen Dicke of the Mississippi State University Extension Service. “When people travel less, Christmas tree sales usually go up.”
Some younger growers have added pick-your-own pumpkin patches and corn mazes to extend their marketing season. Mississippi’s pumpkin crop brought customers to the farms where they noticed the Christmas trees, and they indicated they would return to buy trees.
The combination of corn mazes, pumpkin patches and Christmas trees work together well to create a fall festival atmosphere that offers “agritainment.” People who enjoy this atmosphere often visit again.
“People attracted to the pumpkin patch will come back for the trees as repeat customers,” Dicke said. “Pumpkins advertise Christmas trees, and Christmas trees advertise pumpkins.”
The trees that will be available are shaping up well, and they had more than enough rainfall to develop beautiful, green foliage and adequate size.
“The rains actually saved many growers who were experiencing severe drought earlier in the year,” Dicke said. “Many trees recovered from being stressed by the lack of water during that time period and were able to put on needed growth and foliage.”
While the steady rainfall created a favorable climate for foliar diseases, most growers were well prepared for this situation.
“Like many of our growers, I have a regular treatment program for keeping my trees healthy, and I spray every two weeks, if needed, to control disease problems before they have a chance to develop,” said Larry Massey, who operates Rosebud Christmas Tree Plantation near Walnut Grove in Leake County.
Massey, who will become president of the Southern Christmas Tree Association next year, has about 3,000 trees in different stages of growth on his tree farm. He sells about 500 trees a year, and prices range according to square foot, height and grade.
“I sell some of my medium-sized, cut-your-own trees from $5 a foot and up,” Massey said. “The pre-cut trees and those that are larger usually sell a little higher per foot, and the ones that are smaller or shorter, which some customers call the ‘Charlie Brown’ trees, may sell for $3 a foot and up.”
Massey saw his sales climb with the economic downturn in 2008 because people did not travel.
“Last year near the beginning of the marketing season, I expected to see a drop in purchases, but I actually experienced a 3 percent increase in sales,” he said. “Growers may see another increase in sales this year.”
Massey said he hopes growers will have dry weather to finish their crop preparations on time.
“I haven’t had too many problems with getting my equipment into the fields because most of my trees are on hilly land,” Massey said. “We need sunny weather mainly to allow the ground to dry out so customers can walk around and enjoy picking out their trees.”