Trees take root in holiday market
High Country Christmas trees are making their way across the
country, but tree shoppers are also making their way up the mountain to look for holiday
Meghan Baker, N.C. Cooperative Extension Service agent overseeing Christmas trees, said, "A lot of growers started harvesting about a week ago for the wholesale market. A lot of loads are leaving right now, and a lot of farms are opening this weekend for choose and cut."
J.D. Norris, owner of Norris Tree Farm on Meat Camp Road, said he always opens his choose-and-cut farm on Nov. 1, a few weeks earlier than many growers. While the Thanksgiving weekend is the traditional target for choose-and-cut customers, more and more farmers are opening at least a week before the holiday.
"It's been pretty good so far," Norris said, noting many of his customers are coming from the Piedmont. "Right now they're looking for the bigger trees. As the season goes on, they look for smaller trees."
Baker and Norris agree that the market will be more competitive this year, both because of the state of the economy and a flurry of tree planting that took place in the early part of the decade.
Trees usually grow about a foot a year, and it takes seven years for a tree to reach average market size.
"There are some challenges," Baker said. "A lot of shoppers are checking around for the best price."
Norris has been selling trees since 1986. He said that while his choose-and-cut prices are the same as they've been for the last five years, the wholesale market is competitive. "It's a pretty tight market," he said. "People want it a little cheaper than last year, and they're holding out longer."
Most wholesale trees grown in the High Country go to lots in the Southeast, but some growers ship overseas. Others take Internet orders and ship anywhere. But it's the choose-and-cut market that is drawing more interest and holding steady value, because a farm visit offers more than just a product.
"The county (tree) association is bumping up their marketing this year," Baker said. "We've got about 25 farms this year, and there are usually five to eight that aren't in our brochure. We've had a lot of interest from the marketing efforts we've done."
Baker said wholesale prices are ranging widely, but usually are between $20 and $24 for the average 6-to-8-foot tree. However, the Fraser fir that grows well in the High Country climate is still seen as one of the most desirable trees, and it tends to fetch added value in the secondary market.
"Of course, quality costs, and our growers believe they have a quality product," Baker said. "So they hold out for a good price."
A favorable growing year, with lots of wet weather and an autumn cold snap, means that Fraser firs will keep their needles longer, which allows for earlier harvesting and a longer lot life.
"I think people definitely see we have a good, strong choose-and-cut market," Baker said.
"Fraser firs tend to keep well, and hard frosts set the needles. One of their top qualities is that they have excellent needle retention."
Choose-and-cut trees usually run between $6 and $10 a foot, with a premium placed on the farms that offer hay rides, hot chocolate and other features. Baker said more farmers are offering additional attractions to entice customers to their farms.
Local tree farms are listed at http://www.wataugachristmastrees.org.