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Mother Nature smiles on Christmas tree growers

ACROSS MISSISSIPPI — Christmas tree growers were thinking about the holidays when Hurricane Isaac made landfall Aug. 28, knowing the winds and rains would bring additional work before trees would be ready for the 2012 harvest.

Stephen Dicke, Extension forestry professor at Mississippi State University’s Central Mississippi Research and Extension Center in Raymond, said storm damage should not dampen sales of Mississippi’s Christmas trees.

“The wonderful weather the first half of the year provided us a great crop across the state,” he said. “But when Isaac hit, saturated soil and strong winds forced growers to put in extra work to straighten trees, primarily located near the coast and in southwest Mississippi.

Dicke said Mississippi sales should increase about 11 percent over 2011 based on consumer demand and tree availability.

“A Christmas tree production increase by our growers is a good sign,” he said. “The supply of locally grown Christmas trees will be able to meet demand in most areas of the state.”

Dicke said Mississippi has a large number of new growers who have been in the business less than four years. New farms should enable the state’s production to remain steady as some growers leave the business each year.

“Based on the number of new growers, the future of Christmas tree production in Mississippi looks good,” he said. “Maintaining healthy trees is a challenge and a lot of work. If growers don’t enjoy it, they’re not going to do this.”

Bob Shearer of Purvis understands the commitment needed. He has almost 40 years of experience growing Christmas trees.

“This business takes a lot of patience. You are going to wait four years before you see any return on your investment,” he said. “My wife and I love promoting family and happy times during Christmas. We enjoy having children’s groups out, too.”

Shearer and his wife, Mary, grew the Mississippi winner of the Southern Christmas Tree Association’s Christmas Tree Contest held in August in Hammond, La. The Shearers started their Christmas tree farm in 1971, left the business for a few years in the mid-1990s and returned in 1997.

Hurricane Isaac was tough on his farm, both from winds blowing over trees and rains increasing cercospora needle blight fungus, which is common in Leyland cypress.

“Quality is important. We want every tree to look great,” he said. “If a tree has the fungus, it may not be obvious until it is cut and put in a house when it will shed needles faster. The Christmas season is not a season for disappointment.”

Shearer said his Lamar County farm is on schedule to sell its first 2012 trees on Thanksgiving afternoon.

To find a local Christmas tree farm, go to the Southern Christmas Tree Association website at http://southernchristmastrees.org. Many growers also advertise in the Mississippi Market Bulletin provided by the Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce.


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