The problem is very real. Sales of live-cut Christmas trees have been falling for years. Fresh-tree sales declined from 37 million in 1991 to 31 million in 2007. Meanwhile, artificial tree sales nearly doubled to 17.4 million between 2003 and 2007.
Christmas tree growers saw the writing on the wall. In 2009, a group of them petitioned the USDA for approval of a promotional board to help the industry improve sales.
The National Christmas Tree Association supported the petition. Much like the successful "Got Milk" promotions and the "Beef: It's what's for dinner" campaigns, it would help increase sales and, ultimately, create jobs. There would be a 15 cent per tree surcharge for both domestic producers and importers, raising about 2 million dollars to be used to launch advertising encouraging consumers to choose live-cut trees.
The Agriculture Department requested public comment and most supported the proposal. It looked like a win-win situation for tree growers and sellers. Many are small tree farmers who could never afford to develop ad campaigns on their own.
The Christmas Tree Promotion Board would handle that, or as they awkwardly put it in government-speak, run a "program of promotion, research, evaluation and information designed to strengthen the Christmas tree industry's position in the marketplace; maintain and expend existing markets for Christmas trees; and to carry out programs, plans and projects designed to provide maximum benefits to the Christmas tree industry."
It was set to launch earlier this month.
Oh, but wait. Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., didn't see this as an industry-driven program to provide badly needed promotional help to growers who had been watching sales shrink year after year. To him it was a case of the Obama Administration imposing a "tax" on Christmas trees.
Say what? Did anyone raise a stink about a tax on cows when the Beef Council's "Beef: It's what's for dinner" campaign was funded with a $1 per head assessment?
Suddenly, bloggers were characterizing the surcharge as yet another volley in the war on Christmas, led by that Kenya-born Muslim, Barack Obama. Heritage Foundation's David Addingtion wrote: "The economy is barely growing and 9 percent of the American people have no jobs. Is a new tax on Christmas trees the best President Obama can do? And, by the way, the American Christmas tree has a great image that doesn't need any help from the government."
Obviously he hasn't spent a December trying to peddle fresh-cut trees to people who have plastic ones in the attic.
As disgusted as I am with the lies and misrepresentations passed around by self-serving reactionaries, I'm more put out with the current administration and the USDA. Bowing under the negative "tax on Christmas trees" publicity, the program has been delayed.
Somebody needs to grow a backbone and stand up to these bullies. Next thing you know, they'll start screaming that the "Incredible Edible Egg" campaign's funding (a surcharge for each case of eggs shipped) is part of the war on Easter.
Since the Christmas Tree Promotion Board won't be promoting live-cut trees this year, I'd like to do it in their stead.
Nothing can take the place of a fresh Fraser fir in the living room. The scent, the greenery, none of that can be duplicated in plastic and metal. After all, who lovingly recalls the smell of polystyrene from the Christmas mornings of their childhood?
For 55 years, the Gainesville Evening Optimist Club has sold Christmas trees and wreaths as its yearly fundraiser. The club's trees come from Snowbird Farms in Cullowee, N.C. They're grown by Rick Henderson who follows in the footsteps (and tractor tracks) of his uncle, Aubrey, who planted the first seedlings almost half a century ago.
Long-time club members reminisce fondly about the days when we sold out by the first week in December and had to order additional shipments. That hasn't happened in quite some time. Each year we pray that we'll be able to sell out our initial order. Each year we order fewer trees.
This is a Gainesville tradition deserving of the community's support. All proceeds go to help the youth of Hall County. In the past, these sales have funded Little League teams, helped establish the Boys & Girls Clubs, funded scholarships and competitions encouraging essay and oratorical skills, given grants for camp tuitions and much more.
It can't be done without your support. So come on by the tree lot at Gallery Furniture on Brown's Bridge Road and get your trees and wreaths.
To borrow from another of the Beef Council's campaigns: Fresh cut Christmas trees. Real trees for real people.
Teressa Glazer is a Gainesville businesswoman. Her column appears biweekly on Fridays and on gainesvilletimes.com.