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Published: Tuesday, 11/27/2001

Tree growers pine for good year

BY JANE SCHMUCKER
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER
Betsy Hasselbach looks at Christmas trees with her son Roy, 7, at Miller's Nursery in Fremont. Betsy Hasselbach looks at Christmas trees with her son Roy, 7, at Miller's Nursery in Fremont.
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Christmas tree growers are hoping that September's terrorist tragedies renew interest in traditional, family activities at home - namely decorating live trees.

Shirley Miller optimistically predicted record sales, perhaps up as much as 20 percent over last year, at Miller's Nursery west of Fremont that she owns with her husband, Jerry.

Her reasoning is based on forecasts of increased demand this year and less local competition.

More households than last year plan to display a Christmas tree, according to a National Christmas Tree Association survey by Wirthlin Worldwide. And enough of those households are expected to buy a live tree that the St. Louis-based association predicts 32.3 million trees will be sold, up 200,000 from last year.

Although 200,000 is a tiny percentage increase, it seems good to Christmas tree growers in a season where many retail stores fear they won't equal sales of a year ago.

Mrs. Miller said there are only half as many growers in her immediate area as a few years ago.

“It takes a lot of work to grow these trees and a lot of people don't stick with it,” she said.

In Michigan - where Christmas tree sales are more than double Ohio's - the number of trees sold declined by 20 percent from 1993 to 1999, the latest year for which figures are available. Michigan farmers sold almost 3.2 million trees in 1999 for $41 million. Although the number of trees sold is down, the dollar amount of sales increased about 7 percent from 1993 to 1999. The farmers received an average of $12.90 per tree sold wholesale and $28.50 sold to consumers in 1999.

Many tree farms this year have raised their prices slightly or held them the same as last year.

At Cranberry Hollow Christmas Tree Farm in Putnam County's Glandorf, pines are $28, up from $25 last year, and firs are $42, up from $40.

The Millers in Sandusky County have kept their prices the same at $18 to $20 for most pines, $24 to $26 for most spruces and firs. A few poorly shaped “Charlie Brown” trees are $10.

Alexander's Christmas Trees near Pemberville in Wood County, which has one price for all of its trees, is charging $20 this year, up from $15 last year.

Prices had held steady or dropped through much of the 1990s when many households told the Christmas tree associations surveyors they didn't plan to put up any tree - live or artificial.

In 1996, surveys found 28 percent of households did not plan to decorate a tree. The two overwhelming reasons cited were because residents would be traveling over the holidays or weren't in the mood, said Steve Drake, a Tiffin native who is chief executive of the tree association.

This year, the number of households that don't plan to have a tree has fallen to 18 percent, according to the group's surveys, largely because fewer people plan to travel and more are organizing traditional celebrations with family.

That's comforting to Christmas tree growers even though they won't benefit from all those extra trees.More than 60 percent of the 85 million households that plan to have a tree will erect an artificial one this year, according to the association survey.

The continued popularity of artificial trees and decreased demand that kept prices low in recent years is why there are fewer growers, Mr. Drake said. Michigan counts 830 Christmas tree farms, down from 1,230 in 1994. Ohio counts 815 farms in the most recent year available, 1997.

Neither northwest Ohio or southeast Michigan are big Christmas tree growing areas in their respective states.

In Ohio, Christmas trees are concentrated in the northeast part of the state. In Michigan, most are in the northwest lower peninsula, where Wexford County - the largest Christmas tree county in the state - had 7,300 acres devoted to the trees last year. In contrast, Monroe County had 130 acres of Christmas trees and Hillsdale had 250 acres.



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