There is nearly $1 billion in tree business around that small dead variety placed in stands in 27 million U.S. homes this time of year.
Unfortunately for Christmas tree farmers there are 91 million homes who don't buy live trees. As artificial trees gain market share, only 23 percent of U.S. households bought live trees last year, down from 40 percent 10 years ago. Artificial trees are reusable, so just 12.9 million will be bought this year.
Like the lumber and forestry industries, Christmas tree farmers have trade associations, a professional publication, and scientific research efforts at agricultural schools. (Tree geneticist John Frampton is researching pest-resistant species from Turkey at North Carolina State U.)
The U.S. Department of Agriculture publishes a manual on Christmas tree pests, identifying common problems and solutions. It is appicable to lumber forestry, and informative about sources of blemishes on lumber.
To battle artificial trees the National Christmas Tree Association got the U.S. Department of Agriculture to appove a promotional check-off similar to the hardwood and softwood programs.
Now 15 cents from every tree sold will go to promote live tree sale marketing with a "got milk"-style program in 2012. (A bloggist who dubbed it a "tax on Christmas trees" has temporarily slowed the program down.)
Like the kitchen cabinetry business, Christmas tree makers have continuously improved operations in the face of a declining market. They over-planted in the boom years, and now the recessionary market means people want shorter trees, not the tall ones that have been growing for awhile.
It's possible to conveniently order a Christmas tree online. But 58 percent of consumers buy their trees on a chilly tree lot or on the farms where they were grow; another 16 percent buy them at places like Lowe's or Home Depot.
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