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Reversing the Tree Trend

Area farmers say holiday season off to strong start

December 6, 2009
By AMANDA WHISTLE, The Leader-Herald

JOHNSTOWN - Fewer than three weeks are left to deck the halls, string the lights and wrap the gifts. With all the holiday hassle, who wants to deal with chopping, mounting, watering and cleaning up after a live Christmas tree? Plenty of people.

Nancy Brockley of Edinburg said she will be happy to pine over genuine needles this Christmas.

Brockley, who recently moved to the area from Delmar, said she had been decorating an artificial tree for at least the past four years. She bought the tree during a sale in July and paid about $50 for it.

Article Photos

The Leader-Herald/Bill Trojan

Allan Palkovic of Perth loads his Christmas tree into his car at Herba Acres Tree Farm in Johnstown on Thursday.

"I guess you could say I got my money's worth," Brockley said.

Brockley spent about 30 minutes Tuesday selecting her pre-cut fresh tree from Herba's Acres Tree Farm in Johnstown. The first-time customer went home with a $40 9 1/2-foot- tall balsam fir tied to the roof of her car.

"There's absolutely no comparison," she said. "Besides, fighting with putting up an artificial tree is just as bad."

About 25 percent of Herbas' Acres Tree Farm customers choose to fell their own tree, while the rest choose from the freshly cut selection, said Patty Herba, who owns Herba's Acres Tree Farm with her husband, Thomas.

Thomas Herba's grandparents bought the 140-acre farm in 1921. But it wasn't until 1983 that Herba decided to transform the dairy farm into rows of evergreens.

"I always wanted to do it since I was a kid," he said.

The farm usually sells about 800 trees a year with the busiest time being the first full weekend in December.

Goderie's Tree Farm, also in Johnstown, has been selling Christmas trees for retail and wholesale in lots of 25 per species since 1970. Over the last decade, the 250-acre evergreen farm has seens its business shift from three-quarters wholesale to mostly retail, said Mike Goderie, who owns Goderie's Tree Farm with his brother, Peter Goderie.

"Now only about 10 percent of our business is wholesale," Goderie said. "More people like to come directly to a tree farm instead of a corner lot."

The tree farm sold most of its wholesale lots to businesses and organizations within a 100- to 200-mile radius of the area - with most buyers being fire houses and scouts looking to sell trees as fundraisers, Goderie said.

Goderie's did sell fresh-cut trees to Walmart about eight to 10 years ago.

Despite national trends, both Herba's and Goderie's have seen their business remain consistent or steadily increase over the past few years.

"Our business is going up every year and, the way this season is starting out, I'm sure this is going to be a good year," Goderie said.

Herba's sells only individual retail Christmas trees and has seen business remain steady the past few years.

"It's pretty consistent," Herba said.

Last year, both artificial and farm-grown Christmas tree sales were down, according to a poll by the National Christmas Tree Association and Harris Interactive Inc. The poll showed U.S. consumers purchased 28.2 million farm-grown Christmas trees, a 10-percent decline from 2007.

In 2007, New York saw a 44 percent decline in the number of Christmas trees harvested from 2002 when the number dropped from 618,917 trees to 348,043 trees, according to the latest Census of Agriculture results from the U.S. Department of Commerce.

In an industry that depends so heavily on weather and a short sales season, it's difficult to pinpoint exact reasons for the downward trend, NCTA Assistant Director Becky Rasmussen said.

"There's not one specific factor," Rasmussen said of the loss in sales.

The NCTA functions like a trade organization for its more than 5,000 members nationwide. Any professional grower or retailer of real Christmas trees can become a member and pay dues that cover membership benefits. The association applies for federal grants from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to provide speakers at its conventions, but other than that, it's funded by membership dues and voluntary donations.

For Rasmussen, the greatest advantage of a real Christmas tree is simply family tradition.

"Most families appreciate being together and celebrating the holiday with a family tree," Rasmussen said, adding that putting up a real tree is just not the same as "taking a plastic tree out of a box."

Chain retailers like Lowes sell both artificial and fresh-cut trees that are grown regionally in all 50 states and Canada, said Karen Cobb, a national spokeswoman for Lowes.

"We purchase from regional growers so that when trees arrive in stores, they're as fresh as they possibly can be," Cobb said. "Our customers expect a fresh tree - not one dropping needles."

Lowes in Amsterdam offers fresh-cut noble, fraser, Douglas and balsam firs ranging in heights from 5 to 9 feet, with the cheapest being the 5- to 6-foot fraser fir and the most expensive being the 8- to 9-foot fraser.

Amanda Whistle can be reached at



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