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Demand outstripping Christmas tree supply as growers retire

real_christmas_tree_rgbACROSS MISSISSIPPI — Consumers who want Mississippi-grown Christmas trees to deck their halls should shop early for the best selection every year.

“Choose-and-cut Christmas tree production in Mississippi is fairly flat because there are growers each year who retire,” said Stephen Dicke, a forestry professor with the Mississippi State University Extension Service. “Growers still in the business are producing more trees each year, but demand in heavily populated counties is much higher than the supply of trees.”

Mississippi had about 85 growers who sold approximately 29,000 trees in 2013. The estimated market value of these trees was $1.45 million. Dicke said he expects these numbers to remain steady for 2014.

Harsh weather conditions put increased pressure on the already tight market. The extreme cold in early 2014 caused some growers to lose young trees, and a rainy spring and summer increased disease pressure from fungus, Dicke said.

“Growers start as soon as the beginning of January replanting the number of trees that were sold, and extreme cold for extended periods like we had at the beginning of the year is tough,” Dicke said. “All the rain we had this year made trees more susceptible to fungal infections. Growers must keep up a regular spraying schedule every year, no matter how rainy. There are no cures for fungal infections, and once the tree looks sick, it is often too late. The best we can do is perform preventative maintenance.”

Don Kazery Jr. and his wife Terri manage about 800 trees on their 3-acre, choose-and-cut farm just outside Clinton in Hinds County.

“We lost about 70 trees this year during the extreme cold,” Don Kazery Jr. said. “We also had a lot of mortality in our plantation from high winds.”

They purchased a few extra replacement trees in 2013, so their inventory remains stable. Like many other tree producers with high traffic, Kazery intends to plant larger trees to shorten the typical four-year production period required to produce 6- to 8-foot trees.

“Buying larger replacement trees at the beginning of the year helps growers like Don, who have fewer acres and need to rapidly replenish their supply,” Dicke said.

Several varieties of trees are available in Mississippi. Leyland cypress is one of the most popular trees and has very little scent. Other varieties include Arizona cypress, Eastern red cedar, Virginia pine and Eastern white pine.

Prices vary among Christmas tree farms, but on average, consumers can expect to pay $5 to $8 per foot.

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