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Oregon's Christmas Tree Growers Wage War Against Fake Trees

Christmas Tree Growers Want to Spruce up Their Image

0828CL_treecert.wav 2:39 mini-feature 8/28/07 Chris Lehman/CD agri-business

Lead: Oregon Christmas tree farmers are hoping to capitalize on growing skepticism over the safety of cheap Chinese imports. Fake trees have yet to fall under the recall cloud. But live tree growers want you to believe their product is environmentally-friendly. Correspondent Chris Lehman has more

Live versus fake. It’s a question many people ask themselves each December. On the one hand, fake trees are cheap, reusable, and don’t shed needles. But live trees, they have the smell, the look, and the tradition that a fake tree just can’t match.

Macy Guppy: “If you really had your choice, I’d surely go live.”

But Macy Guppy, of Portland, says live trees aren’t for everyone. Her 89-year-old father, for instance.

Macy Guppy: “it’s just too much for him to go out and get a tree, so has a little tiny artificial tree that he uses every year, so that’s a pretty good use of resources.”

Christmas tree growers hope to convince people like Guppy that live trees are, in fact, a better use of resources. More Christmas trees are grown in Oregon than in any other state, and two of the largest growers have joined forces in an effort to spread the message that Christmas trees are, well, green.

Dave Schudel: “The number one misconception is that Christmas trees are cut from the forests.”

That’s Dave Schudel of Holiday Tree Farms in Corvallis. He says most Christmas trees are grown on farms, so cutting them down does not amount to deforestation. It’s more along the lines of harvesting a crop such as corn or wheat. It’s just that Christmas trees take five or more years to grow.

Holiday Tree Farms and a competitor, Yule Tree Farms of Canby, have joined forces in what they’re calling the Coalition of Environmentally-Conscious Growers.

Yule Tree Farm president Joe Sharp says one of the main goals of the program is to clear up misperceptions that may have depressed sales:

Joe Sharp: “That is really the catalyst that makes this thing work for all growers in Oregon, for our industry and potentially for the whole country. If we get the right information for consumers, we can hopefully gain back some of the market share that we’ve lost.”

Lost to fake plastic trees that are mainly imported from China. Live tree sales have fallen in recent years but still far outpace the artificial ones.

Sharp says the coalition will oversee a certification program that rewards farmers who minimize pesticide use and control erosion. Sharp won’t say who is doing the certification. The group had wanted the Oregon Department of Agriculture to oversee the process.

Department spokesman Bruce Pokarney says the agency supports the concept, but is taking a wait-and-see approach.

Bruce Pokarney: “We are interested and when it gets to the point where the entire industry is aware of the program and it’s allowed to develop, we have the ability and would be very interested in providing that certification help, if we can.”

For now though, tree-shoppers will have to take it on faith that the certification is legitimate, that is, if they care if there is a certification program.

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