The Christmas tree harvest season for Ashe County this year will face numerous challenges, but the N.C. Agricultural Extension is saying that so far, the season remains in good shape.
“One big thing that we feel lucky about is that we missed this weather system that was coming through,” said Travis Birdsell, the agricultural extension agent which focuses on Christmas trees in the county. “(The system) did not dump the snow like we thought it was going to. That was very fortunate, because that means the harvest season is still going well.”
While snow can be a potential problem for the season, growers and sellers also have to deal with the issue of a shorter choose-and-cut season.
Customers start purchasing Christmas trees after Thanksgiving, which this year falls on Nov. 28. Birdsell said that is the latest possible date the holiday can be.
“After Thanksgiving weekend, (sellers) only have three great weekends to sell trees on choose-and-cut lots,” he said.
In Ashe County, Christmas trees are a $65 million industry, which employees 1,000 people year-round and 2,500 people seasonally. Residents grow 12,000 acres of the trees in the county.
In turn, the industry helps bring commerce to other businesses in the area.
“That is one thing we like to positively stress, it’s not just Christmas tree growers that are positively affected by the tree industry,” Birdsell said. “The retail stores, gas stations, anywhere those people working also spend money gets a boost.”
This year the National Christmas Tree Association is estimating that 36 million trees will be purchased nationwide, which is an increase from last year.
“Christmas tree sales depend on people buying them,” Birdsell said. “It is always hard to know how many people are going to buy trees.”
While choose-and-cut sellers will start getting their heavy business after Thanksgiving, wholesale shipments will start next week. This explains the influx of transporting seen around the county.
“The trees are being harvested and moved from the fields to loading yards,” Birdsell said. “They are being stockpiled for wholesale distribution.”
Birdsell said that wholesale vendors have contracts which allows them to know how many trees they need to cut and send to the loading yard.
While farmers this year experienced a rainy season that has hurt many of the county’s crops, the Christmas trees remain in great shape.
“Despite all of the wet weather we’ve had this year, Christmas trees are one of the few crops that has benefited from it,” Birdsell said. “(The rainy season) was more like its native habitat.”
Still, the industry remains very weather dependent. Snow and rain could put the growers behind schedule on harvesting the trees, but for sellers the snow could help.
“A little bit of snow is a great thing for a choose-and-cut lot,” Birdsell said. “(The snow) puts people in that Christmas spirit. I hope everybody goes out and chooses to put up a real tree to celebrate their holiday.”