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Christmas Tree Growers Prepare For The Season
By Allison Powe
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Mississippi Christmas trees have thrived under unusually good growing conditions this year, and the trees are ready to be harvested by spirited holiday enthusiasts.
Dr. Stephen Dicke, extension forestry specialist in Raymond, said Mississippi's trees have weathered well this year and are looking good. Growers are facing only a few problems, such as needlecast, in some areas of the state.
Starkville grower Jeffrey Krans said needlecast is a disease that causes needles to fall out and affects tree density.
Needlecast is a problem for the Virginia pines every year, but this year's dry fall helped lessen the disease.
Another problem growers must control each year is bark aphids. Grower Carolyn Swedenburg of Columbus said although these insects actually do not hurt the trees, they can be a problem for the customer when left uncontrolled. Untreated trees are a means for the unwanted aphids to hitch a ride into homes.
"Overall, this year has been better for us than the past couple of years," said grower Michael May of Chunky. "Growing conditions turned out well, especially the weather."
Mississippi's production of Christmas trees has slowly crept up in the past few years. An estimated 250,000 trees were produced in the state this year.
"The economic forecast for Christmas trees looks good, and a high demand has been projected," Dicke said. "The last couple of years have been good for Christmas tree growers, and this year is expected to yield another good crop."
The forestry specialist said a grower sell-out about five years ago, enabled many retailers to purchase trees below production cost while choose-and-cut farms sold fresh trees at slightly higher prices. This year, retail prices are expected to return to a level similar to choose-and-cut trees. Prices for the Mississippi trees, which are available only at choose-and-cut farm operations, have remained steady for the past few years.
Retail competition has taken about 60 percent of the market.
Dicke said, but he expects Mississippi tree farm prices and retail tree prices to be more comparable this year because retailers will no longer be able to sell the trees so cheaply.
Consumers can expect to pay about $4 to $5 per foot for most species of trees including the Virginia pine, which is the most common. Dicke said some of the more exotic species such as the Leyland cypress will be a little more expensive, averaging about $5 to $6 per foot.
Swedenburg said she is especially excited about her Leyland cypress trees, which are relatively new in the South.
"These trees are not only good for Christmas decorating, but are also attractive landscape trees for the yard," she said.
For information on Christmas tree farms near you, contact your local county extension agent.