Christmas trees bounce back after year of severe weather

Published 4:33 pm Monday, November 15, 2021

By Susan Collins-Smith
MSU Extension Service

With rising prices everywhere, families may expect to pay more for their choose-and-cut Christmas trees this year. But that may not be the case.

Mississippi Christmas tree growers faced some challenges in 2021 with weather conditions and price hikes for many of their inputs. However, many growers may decide not to pass those costs on to consumers of their choose-and-cut Christmas trees, said John Kushla, professor and forestry specialist with the Mississippi State University Extension Service.

“Besides crop losses from storms, expenses have risen for equipment, parts, fuel and fertilizer,” Kushla said. “But that does not mean all growers are charging more for a tree. Since the Christmas tree market is local, growers near a larger city may be able to charge more for trees, while those in rural areas may not.”

Kushla said choose-and-cut trees are selling for $9 to $14 per foot, which is in line with 2020 prices. Trees that are 6 to 8 feet tall will sell closer to the lower end of that range, and larger trees that are over 10 feet tall will sell at the higher end of that range.

Some growers also offer precut Fraser firs from Tennessee and North Carolina, which are in short supply. He said he expects prices for these trees to be closer to $12 to $14 per foot.

While Christmas tree varieties commonly grown in the South are resilient and usually bounce back from high winds, some growers, especially in the Gulf South, did lose some trees to hurricanes and tropical storms. Many Christmas tree producers in Mississippi are part of the Southern Christmas Tree Association, which also includes growers from Louisiana and Alabama.

“Louisiana was particularly hard hit by Hurricane Ida, which damaged some of the crop there from wind and rain,” Kushla said. “That same hurricane tracked through Mississippi, dropping a lot of rain. 2021 proved to be unseasonably wet in general. Some growers experienced disease damage to their trees from root rot related to soil wetness.”

Adam and Ali Carnes encountered only minor problems associated with the severe, wet weather at their 3-year-old, one-and-a-half-acre farm in Pontotoc.

“I lost about 15 to 20 trees out of my planting stock in February when the icy weather came through,” said Adam Carnes, who will sell his first choose-and-cut trees this year when Carnes Farms opens for the season Nov. 20. “I also think I had a handful of trees that had some fungal infection, but the spraying schedule we use for that took care of it. All my trees look good, and everything is going well.”

Michael Burchart, executive secretary of the Southern Christmas Tree Association, said most farms are planning to open in the next two weeks, while others are already open.

“The majority of farms open the weekend before Thanksgiving or the weekend after Thanksgiving, depending on how close Thanksgiving is to Christmas each year,” he said. “Farms that offer pretagging are already open, along with farms that offer other activities, such as photo opportunities, corn mazes and pumpkin patches.

“A lot of Christmas tree farmers look at their plan and ask themselves what else can I do with this farm,” Burchart said. “Christmas tree farms offer a lot of additional opportunities to bring in income throughout the year.”

Christmas tree farms are a strong and growing business with room for even more new farmers, Burchart said.

“Most Christmas tree farms in our area are small with one to two acres of trees, but those growers are going to sell 80% of their mature stock each season. People want to go to your farm and buy a real tree and have that experience,” he said.

Many Christmas tree farmers, like the Carnes family, work full-time jobs.

“I’m a third-generation firefighter, and my wife is a teacher,” Adam Carnes said. “The idea to open the farm really came to me out of the blue. I studied landscape management at Northeast Community College, and I mowed yards with my dad growing up. I didn’t know anything about growing Christmas trees, so I did a lot of research before we decided to do it.

“We have two little girls, and I hope the farm is something we can leave them someday,” he said.