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Christmas Tree Growers Gear Up
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Years of hard work are about to pay off for Mississippi's 140 Christmas tree growers.
Unlike the state's annual crops, farmers have a long wait before reaping the harvest rewards. Six-foot trees take about four years to grow.
Dr. Steve Dicke, extension forestry specialist in Raymond, said the enormous effort involved in growing trees has reduced the number of Mississippi Christmas tree growers over the years. The state had 450 growers in 1985 when the industry was in its infancy.
"In the last two years, we've started seeing growers make fairly decent profits for all their efforts," Dicke said. "Producing Christmas trees is very labor intensive. Growers have to be good retailers during the holiday season, and good farmers during the entire year."
Dicke said Virginia pine numbers continue to drop, and Leyland cypress are increasing.
"Leyland cypress are easier to grow and produce a higher percentage of acceptable Christmas trees," Dicke said. "Leyland cypress take about three years to mature, compared to five years for Virginia pines."
Mississippi Christmas tree growers are spread evenly across the state. Dicke said he expects the state to harvest 230,000 trees.
Raburn May of Chunky said trees flooded the market about five years ago, but fewer growers mean a better quality tree.
"As the growers have dwindled, the quality has improved," May said. "The growers who are still in the business are dedicated to producing a quality product."
A tree from May's Christmas tree farm, Lazy Acres, was the first place Mississippi tree in the Louisiana-Mississippi Christmas Tree Association competition last summer. David and Vera Gray of Amory had the overall grand champion tree.
May said buyers should look for trees with straight trunks, dense foliage and fresh needles.
Dicke said buyers will spend about $5 per foot or more, especially for taller trees.
"Make sure the trees have been cared for on the lot -- sheltered, not stacked, moist sap," Dicke said. "Mississippi varieties are best when cut by the customer."
Dicke said Leyland cypress has no smell and can be less aggravating to allergies. If kept watered and never allowed to dry out, Leyland cypress will last longer than Virginia pine or red cedar.