Holiday season underway for Christmas tree growers

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Capital News Service
LANSING — The holiday season is set to begin for Michigan’s Christmas tree growers, who are hoping to at least match last year’s sales.
By the end of October, Michigan tree farmers will be harvesting trees and shipping them to stores and Christmas tree lots in several states. That’s all in preparation for the day after Thanksgiving, the unofficial start of the Christmas tree-buying season.
“The day after Thanksgiving, we will open the doors and there will be people waiting in line,” said Mel Koelling, who with his wife Laurie owns and operates Tannenbaum Farms in Mason, south of Lansing. “We are always optimistic.”
Koelling has been growing and selling Christmas trees for about 40 years. In that time, he said, sales have steadily increased.
About 80 to 100 of the farm’s 160 acres are planted with Christmas trees, and nearly all will be sold to individuals, primarily customers who want to cut their own trees, Koelling said.
“We certainly promote the experience,” he said. “We try to make it into an enjoyable, memorable experience.”
It is not unusual to see two or three generations show up together to get a tree, Koelling added. He encourages customers to make the selection of a tree a family tradition because Christmas is the “most significant of all American holidays.”
Also preparing for the season is Dutchman Tree Farms in Manton, which  owns and leases a total of 7,000 acres. Dutchman, owned by Joel Hoekwater and Chris Maciborski, is considered the largest Christmas tree farm in Michigan and sells nearly all of its trees to the wholesale market, said Pam Vanderwal, its office manager.
She said the farm expects an increase in sales this year, in part due to Christmas tree shortages in North Carolina and on the West Coast. Workers at the farm, which is near Cadillac, already are busy preparing for the upcoming Christmas season.
“We are in full gear here now, taking orders, trying to figure out how many trees we need,” Vanderwal said.
According to its website, the farm started by selling one variety, Scotch pine, at a farmers market in 1972. Today it offers nine varieties of cut trees, ranging from 3 feet to 50 feet tall.
Dutchman Farms also offers balled and container-grown evergreens, seedlings, wreaths and other Christmas greenery.
Tannenbaum and Dutchman are among the many farms that place Michigan third in the nation in the number of Christmas trees harvested, supplying about 1.7 million fresh trees to the national market each year, according to the Michigan Christmas Tree Association.
Michigan also grows and sells more than nine major Christmas tree species on a wholesale level, which is more species than any other state, the association said.
In all, Michigan has about 27,000 acres in commercial Christmas tree production, with an annual net value of more than $27 million.
The industry makes an additional $1.3 million in the sales of wreaths, cut boughs, garland and other related items, according to the association. And, for every Christmas tree harvested, Michigan growers plant three new trees for future harvests.
While there will be plenty of trees for available for holiday decorating, the association warns that particular varieties might be hard to come by.
Amy Start, executive director of the 172-member Durand-based industry association, said years ago, Scotch pine Christmas trees were the top sellers in Michigan, but they have since been edged out by the increasingly popular Fraser firs. In fact, the Frasers are a little too popular.
“Fraser firs will be hard to get,” Start said. “There’s not enough to harvest.”
Tannenbaum Farms’ Koelling, who was a forestry professor at Michigan State University for 35 years, said about 25 percent of Michigan’s  growers produce trees for the wholesale market, shipping trees to stores and lots as far away as the Gulf Coast.
Most of those growers are in the less populated areas of the state, and together they produce about 75 percent of the trees sold in Michigan each year.
The majority of tree farms, he said, are in the more populated parts of the state, sell mostly to individual customers. However, they account for only about 25 percent of the  trees sold in the state each year.
Around the country, some 350 million Christmas trees currently are growing, according to the National Christmas Tree Association. The average growing time of a Christmas tree is seven years.
The national association says the top Christmas tree-producing states, in order, are Oregon, North Carolina, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Washington.

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