ASHE COUNTY-Like the Fraser fir’s sturdy branches that support those treasured family heirlooms and keepsakes, the local Christmas tree industry remains strong despite stiff competition from wannabes.
While the final tallies have yet to be calculated, early figures indicate that Ashe County remains the largest single county producer of Christmas trees nationwide.
Every year, locally grown Fraser firs contribute at least $90 million to the Ashe County economy, said N.C. Cooperative Extension Agent Travis Birdsell.
Truth be told, that number is probably closer to $360 million once ancillary and supporting industries, such as hotel and restaurants, are included in the mix, said Birdsell.
“The industry is stable and that’s something we can be proud of right now,” he said.
Approximately 3.5 million trees are expected to be harvested from 14,000 acres of trees this harvest season alone.
“Most of those trees will go to some type of retail lot whether that be a retail store, garden center or retail lots that growers own themselves,” said Birdsell.
The current number of active growers has recently swelled past the 200-farmer mark.
Despite the high national ranking, this doesn’t mean the industry as a whole hasn’t faced its fair share of challenges.
Although the purchase of an artificial tree is considered an act of treason or blasphemy in the High Country, this hasn’t stopped national consumers from taking the easy way out, so to speak.
“Artificial trees are our No. 1 concern,” said Birdsell. “Surveys have been conducted and shown that one of the reasons people don’t put up a real tree is because of the mess and the work of putting one up. That is the largest battle we face with the artificial tree. One of the things we are aware of is the reason people buy trees is because they are a tradition. We are encouraging people if they do buy a (real) tree, continue that tradition and we thank them for including us in their holiday tradition of putting a tree in their house that all come from family farms.”
Local growers are also anticipating a busy choose-and-cut season, which traditionally begins the weekend before Thanksgiving.
The choose-and-cut industry serves as a reminder of the industry’s humble beginnings when it was a fledgling mom-and-pop cottage industry.
Although it might be hard to believe considering the vast sea of green that covers most Ashe County farms, the local tree industry began as an experiment by the N.C. General Assembly, which passed down a mandate to test the mountains as a viable foothold in the national industry.
“They started out with a white pine and that did very well,” said Birdsell.
About a decade later, farmers began experimenting with the Fraser fir, which presently dominates the industry.
“Fraser firs have sturdy branches and can hold heavy ornaments and also has superior needle retention, meaning they can be harvested earlier and the needles stay on longer, allowing for earlier harvest shipping and display,” said Birdsell.
To pick-up a complete list of choose-and-cut locations, visit the Ashe County Chamber of Commerce on Jefferson Avenue or click to ashecountychristmastrees.com
Reach Jesse Campbell at (336) 846-7164.
Christmas tree season is underway locally.