Christmas tree growers see sales increase this year

James HowellStaff

January 2, 2013

Christmas came early for tree farmers as sales increased an estimated 10 percent this growing season.

“It seems like sales are up, with our local choose and cuts and also at our retail lots,” said Joe Freeman, a local tree grower.

Travis Birdsell, the extension agent for agriculture, also called 2012 a success.

“It seems to have went well,” said Birdsell. Although its not an official number, Birdsell estimated sales were up by as much as 10 percent from talking to local tree growers.

Birdsell said sales numbers can ofter be misleading and have varied interpretations. Year to year increases are sometimes statistical fluctuations. Although, one thing that can’t be argued is the upward trend of increasing sales over the past three years.

With the economic downturn, Ashe County experienced a 10-year low in tree sales in 2009, according to Birdsell.

However, sales have been trending upward since then.

“The trend in the past couple years has been up,” said Birdsell.

Also, Ashe County experienced a unique combination of warm weather in winter with high rainfall in summer that allowed for “an extremely good cutting season, except for Superstorm Sandy,” said Birdsell.

“Christmas trees in Ashe County have had almost ideal weather conditions for this growing season,” said Birdsell.

These prime conditions for growing Christmas trees are important to the economy of Ashe County, because the Christmas tree industry contributes more than $60 million annually to the county’s economy.

Ashe County tree farms also help drive the local economy by hiring workers. Christmas tree farms provide over 700 local jobs year round and over 2,000 jobs during the tree harvesting season.

In spite of the successful year, tree growers may face difficult problems heading into 2013.

Before Congress acted on Tuesday, the estate tax was planned to return to a $1 million unified credit and 55 percent vs. the $5 million and 35 percent in place today.

This means after the death of a tree grower whose farm’s total assets are over $1 million will be taxed 55 percent of their assets.

According to Judy Bare, most of the large local tree farms are worth more than $1 million. A large estate tax could force farms to sell their land in order to pay, and land is a vital asset for tree farms.

“Farmers already have to pay taxes on their land and equipment - why should they be taxed again?” said Bare.

The fiscal cliff agreement passed on New Years Day would maintain the $5 million unified credit, with the rate increasing to 40 percent. This five percent increase will still impact farmers across the nation, but not as many in Ashe County.

Bare also said farmers feel constant pressure to protect and conserve the environment from environmentalists who are “always up in arms about pesticides and fertilizers.

In spite of these upcoming challenges, Christmas tree farming has become a mainstay industry in Ashe County, and should have continued success in 2013.