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Everything you ever wanted to know about NC Christmas Trees

posted on in Fiscal Insight

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If you are still thinking about buying a Christmas tree this year, I hope you will seriously consider buying a fresh tree from a local North Carolina farmer.  North Carolina is the second largest producer of Christmas trees in the country and home to the Fraser Fir, the most popular Christmas tree in North America.  Christmas trees have a huge impact on the Mountain region of our state; this industry is the backbone of many small towns in the North Carolina Mountains.

Christmas Tree farming is concentrated in the far Western North Carolina counties, which include Alleghany, Ashe, Avery, Buncombe, Haywood, Henderson, Jackson, Macon, Madison, Mitchell, Swain, Transylvania, Watauga, and Yancey.  In 2011, there were over 300 Christmas tree growers, with approximately 37 million trees growing over 32,000 acres.  The Christmas tree industry has proven to be the main source of income for some of the small communities in the mountain counties, amounting to more than $75 million in sales during the 2011 holiday season.  Ashe County leads in sales, with almost $30 million, followed by Avery, Alleghany and Jackson counties.

Historically, the Eastern red cedar was the traditional tree in the South, because it was commonly found in the woods and fencerows.  It has been reported that as early as the 1930s small family farms would sell those trees in the larger cities for $1 to $2 each, using the money to pay for clothes or school.  Over time, Christmas trees became more popular, and more people wanted to celebrate the Christmas season with trees in their homes.  According to a Progressive Farmer article, four out of every five Christmas trees sold in the South in 1964 were from northern states and Canada. With an average retail price of $3 per tree, that was a $36 million industry lost to southern producers.

Local farmers, mostly in Avery County, started discussions with nearby farmers about the culture and best production methods of the White Pine and Fraser Fir in the mid-1950s.  Farmers along with county agents, NC Forest Service, and NC State Foresters were all included in discussions of a method to garner more information and consolidate ideas and opinions regarding Christmas tree farming.  In 1959, the North Carolina Christmas Tree Association was born and they started promoting Fraser Fir and White Pine trees as the Christmas trees of choice across North Carolina.  Today the Fraser Fir is 96% of tree production in North Carolina, and is the species chosen most often for the White House Christmas tree.

Not only do North Carolina Christmas trees have a strong foothold in our mountain communities, but they also have many advantages over artificial trees for celebrating the Christmas holiday.  Real trees come from family farms in the United States, so when you buy a real tree you are supporting a local farm.  Artificial trees are made in Korea, Taiwan, or China, and do not help the local farmer in NC.  Real trees are completely recyclable; they can be turned into mulch, used as wind and water barriers to prevent soil and sand erosion along beaches and rivers, or even put into ponds and lakes to create feeding areas for fish.  Artificial trees have an average use of 6-7 years and are made from non-renewable plastics that eventually end up in our landfills.  You live in a state the produces the most popular Christmas tree, and you should take advantage of it.

I hope you enjoyed learning a little bit about North Carolina’s Christmas trees and the industry that supports many Western counties.  If you are interested in learning more about this industry, please check out the full presentation I gave during our Shaftesbury Society Luncheon on NC Christmas Trees.

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Sarah Curry is Director of Fiscal Policy Studies at the John Locke Foundation. Previously, she worked for the North Carolina State Senate as a research assistant for the chairs of the Senate Agricultural Committee and headed the research efforts for… ...

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