North Carolina Christmas Trees
The Christmas tree crop in North Carolina is an important one for the state. The North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services estimates the value of the crop to be approximately $100 million annually. The department reports that North Carolina is the number two producer of cut trees in the U.S. behind Oregon, with Ashe, Alleghany, Avery, Watauga and Jackson counties producing the most trees.
Overall, there were more than 30 million cut Christmas trees sold in the U.S. in 2011 with a value of around $1.07 billion. This compares with 9.5 million artificial trees sold in the same period, according to National Christmas Tree Association. An estimated 84 percent of trees sold are pre-cut, with 16 percent of buyers cutting their own. In North Carolina, the majority of trees produced are Fraser firs, making the state the largest producer of this favorite tree.
Most trees are harvested after seven years, yielding a tree 5½ to 7 feet in height. Most people wouldn't think that Christmas trees are a labor-intensive crop, but they require a commitment of between 125–175 hours per acre to harvest, with most of the hours in the year of harvest. Trees must be harvested within a very narrow window, making timely and available labor critical.
"One of our biggest challenges each year is getting enough harvest employees," says Harry Yates, owner of Yates Christmas Tree Farms in Watauga County. "It's really hard work, with 12–14 hour days during the peak period. About 50 percent of my harvest employees are local workers. The remaining employees come to us through the H2-A guest worker program. The program provides us with a strong, consistent workforce just when we need them. Most of the workers choose to head to western North Carolina after the sweet potato and tobacco crops are harvested in the eastern part of the state. The majority of these guest employees have been with us for many years and do a great job."
Yates started Yates Christmas Tree Farms in 1975, and currently farms around 300 acres. He is heavily involved with the N.C. Christmas Tree Association, National Christmas Tree Association, and Watauga County Christmas Tree Association. He has also testified before Congress about the guest worker program and changes needed to benefit both farmers and workers. Yates is a member of the North Carolina Growers Association, which coordinates the H2-A harvest employees working for Yates.
Find a Christmas Tree
The North Carolina Christmas Tree Association can help you choose the variety of tree that works for you, and can put you in touch with growers, choose-and-cut farms, retail outlets, mail order services and more. Visit www.ncchhristmastree.com or call (800) 562-8789 in Boone.
For more information about trees and growers in eastern North Carolina, visit www.nc-chooseandcut.com or call (910) 658-8759 in Dunn.
The National Christmas Tree Association has a tree farm finder at Christmastree.org.
For information on caring for a Christmas tree, contact the N.C. Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services, Markets Division, Horticulture, at www.ncagr.gov/markets or call (919) 707-3100.