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2007 Christmas tree crop ready for season
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Mississippi's Christmas tree producers should see a $1.6 million holiday season, but there is room in the market for other growers to join the party.
Steve Dicke, forester with the Mississippi State University Extension Service, said the state is expected to produce 49,500 choose-and-cut Christmas trees this year. This number is slightly down from last year, and significantly down from pre-Hurricane Katrina years.
“Several growers decided it was just a good time to get out of the market, and we never got those back,” Dicke said. “We continue to see fewer trees being planted as people reduce their production to make it easier on themselves.”
Dicke said Christmas trees grown in Mississippi are sold to people who visit the farms to select their own living trees. The average price for a choose-and-cut tree in Mississippi is $34.
“We have an opportunity for new growers. We do not have a saturated market for local trees,” he said.
Dicke said the state had about 400 growers producing about 300,000 trees a year at the industry's peak around 1987 and 1988. Quality suffered as the focus was on quantity.
“We have fewer growers now that produce high quality trees,” Dicke said. “We'd be glad to have others enter the industry who are like-minded and hard working and will put out good trees.”
Leyland cypress is the most commonly grown Christmas tree in the state, followed by Virginia pine. Some growers also produce Eastern red cedar -- the original Mississippi Christmas tree -- and Arizona cypress, a new variety that has a minty/citrus smell and blue foliage.
“You can't put a safer tree in your house than a locally grown Christmas tree,” Dicke said. “All our trees are very fire resistant. They are fresh and take up a lot of water.”
Tommy B. McDaniel is owner of Ole McDaniel Tree Farm in Sallis and 2006-2007 president of the Southern Christmas Tree Association. He grows about 5,000 trees on 6 to 7 acres in Attala County.
“I harvest a 5-year-old tree,” McDaniel said. “My most popular tree is the Leyland cypress. I sell these 2-1 on all the others.”
Last year McDaniel sold about 600 trees. Most trees are in the 7-7 1/2 foot range, but he sells about 100 9-16-foot trees. Clients travel to his farm from a more than 50-mile radius.
“Just like with the baseball field, if you build it they will come, but the quality has a lot to do with it,” McDaniel said.
He lost about 30 trees this year to drought, and many of his other trees did not grow as much as normal. However, drought did not hurt their appearance, and he said they look good now.
“This is crunch time for us,” McDaniel said. “We've got to get everything ready now for our customers to come.”