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Originally published: 2011-10-28 14:51:35
Last modified: 2011-10-28 14:52:00

Choose and Cut season 2011 arrives

Justin Grimes / (averyjournalist@gmail.com)

High Country Christmas tree growers are gearing up for the upcoming Choose and Cut Christmas tree season as they patiently wait for news from United States Department of Agriculture about the industry’s new check-off program.
The traditional promotional Choose and Cut campaign enjoys the support of area chambers of commerce and Christmas tree associations and is perfectly timed to benefit area businesses, motels, rental cabins, bed and breakfasts and the tourist industry – falling between the leaf and ski seasons.
“We are going to have a good harvest and we are projecting sales to be about like last year’s,” said Cline Church, High Country Christmas tree grower and president-elect of National Christmas Tree Association. “Personally, I think that the economy will actually help us because people don’t have much extra income to travel. I think more people will stay at home and have family get-togethers and a tree is the central focus of Christmas at home.”
As reported in a series of articles last spring by The AJT, Christmas tree growers and their associations nationwide are trying to stem the tide of mostly imported fake Christmas trees. To do so, a national task force comprised of growers from across the country began work in 2008 designing a plan petitioning USDA to create a Christmas Tree Promotion, Research and Information Order, known as a “check-off.”
“We are almost there, I am confident the check-off program will go through,” said Church. “USDA informed us to begin the selection process for the 12-member board of directors that will oversee the national program.
“Some very good people have been nominated and we hope to have at least two members selected from North Carolina; the East Coast is allotted four members in all.”
Ten years ago, more than 30 million real Christmas trees were sold every year in the U.S., but sales dropped to 22 million in 2002, due to heavy advertising from the artificial tree industry, stated the task force. Artificial tree sales nearly doubled to 17.4 million annually from 2003 to 2007. Fresh-tree sales, meanwhile, fell from 37 million in 1991 to 31 million in 2007, according to USDA.
Once implemented, the new check-off program, according to McClatchy newspapers, would raise an estimated $2 million a year to help offset the growing market share of artificial trees.
The check-off enjoys overwhelming support from growers in Avery, Ashe and Watauga counties, and from most growers across the state, according to The AJT’s initial investigation.
There currently are 18 USDA check-off programs: Beef, blueberries, cotton, dairy products, eggs, fluid milk, hass avocados, honey packers and importers, lamb, mangos, mushrooms, peanuts, popcorn, pork, potatoes, sorghum, soybean and watermelon.
“We expect to sell 28.5 million real Christmas trees nationwide this year,” Church said.
According to North Carolina Commissioner of Agriculture Steve Troxler, “The state’s Christmas tree industry is ranked second in the nation in the number of trees harvested and is No. 1 in economic impact, monies generated.”
Ashe County ranked No. 1 in trees grown, Alleghany is second and Avery and Watauga almost equal each other and are third and forth.
Thousands of families from the Piedmont regions of North Carolina and neighboring states trek into the High Country – especially during the week of Thanksgiving and first weeks of December – in search of the perfect Christmas tree.
According to North Carolina Christmas Tree Association, approximately 1/4 million trees will be harvested in the High Country during Choose and Cut providing an enormous economic impact to the area.
Enjoy the local fun this upcoming season. During Choose and Cut, some farms offer Christmas-themed crafts and gifts, hot cocoa or cider, cookies, hayrides, farm animals to pet, antique machinery to admire, and spectacular views.