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Article #42, December 2000
By Bill Cook

   ‘Tis that season when many family traditions unfold.  For many people, selecting a Christmas tree is one of the highlights.  And like many of our traditions, there is an entire industry to support it.

   Michigan is one of the leading states in commercial Christmas tree production but has been losing market share.  Growers shipped about 3.2 million trees in 1999, nearly ten percent of the national production.  Most of the state’s production is exported. 

   Michigan ships trees to every state east of the Mississippi, according to Jill O’Donnell, a Michigan State University Christmas tree expert.  There are 54,000 acres (about 84 square miles) and 830 farms that commercially produce Christmas trees.  That amounts to over 50 million trees! 

   Michigan’s Christmas tree “breadbasket” is in the west central part of the Lower Peninsula.  Leading counties are Wexford, Missaukee, Oceana, Montcalm, and Kalkaska.  These “big five” make up 46 percent of the acreage.  In the U.P., Menominee County is by far the leading producer with about 1,800 acres, ranking ninth statewide.  Most of our 83 counties have at least one producer. 

   Michigan Department of Agriculture figures show the number of acres is declining, but the value is increasing.  That means Michigan producers are concentrating on better quality and higher value trees.  In 1999, sales brought 41 million dollars to producers, up from 1996.

   The most common trees produced are Scotch pine, Douglas-fir, and Colorado blue spruce, although the area of each have declined significantly in the last three years.  The “up and coming” species are true firs and white pine.  They take longer to grow than some trees, but they command a better price.

   Christmas trees are intensively cultured, as any agricultural crop.  They are shaped and sheared each spring and regularly need protection from deer, insects, diseases, and competing vegetation.  Some farms color the trees prior to harvest in order to maintain a fresh green appearance.  It may take 6-15 years to produce a saleable tree.

   Most farms have less than 50 acres in Christmas tree production.  About two percent of the operations hold 36 percent of the acres. 

   The challenging business of Christmas tree growing is no longer merely a backyard pastime.  Investment can be substantial.  Cultural practices are critical.  Federal insect quarantines, especially gypsy moth regulations, need to be considered.  Competition is intense and consumers increasingly demand high quality.  Marketing trees is usually no simple task. 

   Use of artificial trees also pose a challenge to Michigan’s Christmas tree industry.  Their quality has improved and they don’t make a mess, you don’t have to water them, and you can use them for many years.  And then there are people like me, who still cut a wild tree from the forest.

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Bill Cook is an MSU Extension forester providing educational programming for the entire Upper Peninsula. His office is located at the MSU Upper Peninsula Tree Improvement Center near Escanaba. The Center is the headquarters for three MSU Forestry properties in the U.P., with a combined area of about 8,000 acres. He can be reached at cookwi@msu.edu or 906-786-1575.

Prepared by Bill Cook, Forester/Biologist, Michigan State University Extension, 6005 J Road, Escanaba, MI  49829
906-786-1575 (voice),  906-786-9370 (fax),  e-mail:  cookwi@msu.edu

Use / reprinting of these articles is encouraged. Please notify Bill Cook.
By-line should read "Bill Cook, MSU Extension" Please use the article trailer whenever possible.

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