CHRISTMAS TREE FARMER - Description
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The initial investment needed to start a tree farm can be large because it takes from six to twelve years for the first crop to grow to selling size. One of the reasons Christmas tree farming can be profitable, however, is that fir and pine trees can flourish on marginal or less fertile land. This type of land is far less expensive to purchase.
Christmas tree farmers need to be knowledgeable about trees in general and popular Christmas tree species in particular. One crop of trees requires a year's work, and the yield is not always high. In 2002, the top 5 percent of the farms (farms of 100 acres or more) sold 61 percent of their trees, and the top 26 percent (farms of 20 acres or more) sold 84 percent of their trees. Nearly 22,000 American farms were producing conifers for the cut Christmas tree market that year, and 446,996 acres were planted in Christmas trees.
A typical Christmas tree farm's cycle begins in March and April, when farmers plant a crop of new trees with seedlings that are grown from seed in beds or greenhouses. A seedling is a small tree that is usually between eight and sixteen inches tall. The planting is done either by hand or with the help of a planting machine that is mounted on a tractor.
In the spring and summer, farmers must pay close attention to the upkeep of the grounds where their trees grow. Weeds and overgrown grass, which compete with the trees for space and water, can damage the undersides of the trees, making them less attractive and harder to sell. Fire prevention is another reason for being diligent about keeping grass and weeds cut down. The grass between the trees must be mowed and the weeds controlled by covering them with mulch. An absence of grass and weeds will also keep away mice, which often kill trees by eating their bark. Insects and disease can also become a problem at this time of the year. Pruning, or the removal of infested or diseased trees, can help control the problem and prevent it from spreading to other trees in the crop.
During the summer months, the young trees are shaped through pruning. The cone shape and dense foliage growth that customers look for when choosing a tree is not natural. Pruning prevents the trees from growing too tall and also encourages them to branch more quickly, creating a full, bushy appearance.
Fall represents the busiest time of year for Christmas tree farmers. By October, the trees can be harvested and shipped. Some farmers allow families to choose and cut their own trees. Other farmers harvest the trees themselves and gather the cut trees together, selling them in an open area near the farm's entrance. Still others harvest the trees and ship them to city vendors. Before a tree is shipped, it must be shaken out and baled using a machine that presses the tree's branches together against the trunk, holding them in place with twine or plastic netting. This protects the tree from damage to its branches and makes it easier to handle when loading and unloading. In addition, some farmers dig up smaller trees and place them in pots, selling them to families who want a living tree that they can plant in their yard after Christmas. However the farmers choose to harvest and sell them, the trees must be ready for the early-bird buyers by the day after Thanksgiving.
Tree farmers can take some time off for the holidays, but right after Christmas, their work begins again. February and March are when the trees are culled, which means the “Charlie Brown” trees that will not be easy to sell are removed. The winter months are also devoted to equipment repair and property maintenance.