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December 16, 2013

Who Do You Think Cuts That Christmas Tree?

For more information on Newsline, contact: Kari Barbic, Media Specialist, American Farm Bureau Federation, karib@fb.org.

Let’s face it. These days few people go out into the wilderness to cut their own Christmas tree. Most folks head to a big box retailer or a nearby lot. So who do you think harvests those trees? Oregon Christmas tree farmer Bob Schaefer points out that immigration reform is in issue when it comes to your holiday decorations. AFBF’s Johnna Miller has the story.
MillerMost people don’t think of Christmas trees as an agricultural product, but they certainly are. Farmers cultivate them for years and then someone has to harvest them. In the U.S. that means 25-30 million trees cut, prepped and shipped in a short time span. That is a big job.
SchaeferWe need in excess of 300 to do our harvest, because you know to harvest over half a million trees takes a lot of people. And it’s been getting more and more difficult to find the numbers we need. Labor is certainly one of our biggest issues in the industry.
MillerBob Schaefer is general manager of Noble Mountain Tree Farm in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. He says most of the workers who harvest their trees are foreign, so immigration reform is a big issue for him and many other Christmas tree farmers.
SchaeferThe last couple years in particular have been extremely challenging to get workers because one of the things about our industry is it’s one of the more difficult products to produce.
MillerHarvesting a 30-50 pound tree is not an easy job. To make it easier Noble Mountain Tree Farm pioneered helicopter harvesting back in 1976. Workers harvest the trees then load them onto a sling that is carried away by a helicopter. Now it’s standard practice in the Northwest.
SchaeferA lot of farms don’t have lot of roads and tractors, trailers and whatever it would take to get trees out of the fields. People typically aren’t going to carry a tree up an 1/8 of a mile to a road or something. Once the trees are put in slings the helicopter takes the sling and flies them to trucks or into the yards. It means you don’t have to have a lot of roads because the helicopter can move trees very quickly and efficiently. It makes it a lot easier for the crews in the fields because they’re not carrying trees very far.
MillerSince many trees are planted in remote areas, using helicopters is cost effective.
SchaeferThe manpower that would be required would not begin to be available to do this by hand. Then it would be so much more costly, not only in manpower, but the equipment to haul the trees to the staging areas. It would be a cost-prohibitive expense.
MillerBut even with helicopters, many holiday decorations rely on agricultural labor. Johnna Miller, Washington.

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