Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Hey tree questions ....woo-hoo!

Oh goodness ... some people get all worked up over the slightest things. Someone with Fox News called me today and said she was doing a story on the "controversy about what to call a Christmas Tree." Apparently there's a big hub-bub in Rhode Island (and a few other states) about this.

I recalled that several years back we asked something about that on our annual consumer poll to gauge just how much of a controversy it is. The question appeared on our Jan. 2006 poll (that would be the 2005 season to us). It was:

There recently has been much talk about how to refer to a Christmas tree. Some people say "Christmas Tree" is appropriate while others think that "Holiday Tree" is the right way to talk about the trees. In your own opinion, which name do you think is more appropriate to use?

97% answered “Christmas Tree”
3% answered “Holiday Tree”

Yeah, now I remember … at that point I was thinking “so what’s the controversy?” Oh well, as long as people buy a real one grown on a farm and not a fake, plastic one made in a factory, that's the important thing.

Here are some of the common questions coming in this week now that many people already got their tree for this year.

From: Daisy
Sent: Tuesday, November 29, 2011 10:28 PM
Subject: Christmas Tree Question

Hi, I’m hoping you can help me. We purchased a fresh 7’ Christmas Tree 2 days ago. The sellers claimed the tree was just cut the day before. Once we got home, we cut off 3” from the bottom, placed it in the stand, and immediately filled it with water. In past years, I recall a tree drinking A LOT during the first week where I need to fill the stand twice/day before the water gets too low. However, with this tree, it’s not drinking much water. It has only been going down an inch/day.

Was this tree cut far more than 2 days before we purchased it? I’m concerned it’ll completely dry out before Christmas. Before I decorate the tree, should we throw this one out and get another one?

Even if the tree was harvested more than 2 days ago, it has been in a state of dormancy since late summer / early fall. The rate of water absorption will vary throughout the time it is displayed. Some days it will absorb a lot, some days not so much. This is normal. It can take some time for the plant to come out of a state of dormancy. Just keep the stand filled with water because it can absorb A LOT of water in a short period of time once it starts.

From: Harlan
Sent: Tuesday, November 29, 2011 11:39 AM
Subject: Christmas tree question

We bought an 8 foot Fraser Fur, that unfortunately, required cutting off several large branches so it would fit in the stand, which, made the tree somewhat sparse on the bottom. I would like to drill a few small holes in the trunk, above the stand, to fill in the bottom of the tree, with the branches I previously cut off. Is that OK to do? I will not drill the holes deep enough to weaken the trunk. The branches have been sitting in water. Will they last through Christmas or dry out too fast?

Think of the tree branches in the same way as cut flowers. The longer the stem of the plant is out of water, the quicker it will dry out.

From: Jon
Sent: Tuesday, November 29, 2011 8:55 PM
Subject: Cut tree displayed outside in cold weather

Our house is small. We would like to put a real tree out side on our front porch. We live in Maine and would purchase the tree on Saturday, December 10th, and would like to display it until January 2nd. It will be below freezing much of the time. What recommendations do you have for keeping a cut tree from drying out in this situation?

I'd recommend displaying the tree in a water holding stand, even if it's very cold outside. If the water freezes in the stand, that won't hurt the tree, and it will have water available if it does get warm enough to absorb some.

Keep the questions coming!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Email Overload

Actual email from this week:

From: Daniel
Sent: November 13, 2011 7:41 AM
Subject: Fee

Just watching the news where they say there would be NO fee for a Christmas tree at least for this year. I do think it is a religious discrimination.

Will there be a fee for raising goats or sheep that is used in the Islam religion?
Will there be a fee on the turkeys that are raised for Thanksgiving?

Wow, I couldn't even formulate a response to that one. Each year, there are only a handful of emails I just simply don't answer - and this was the first of 2011.

This whole Christmas Tree tax thing has broken down into the surreal on so many fronts. All because one blogger with some kind of ulterior motive decided to call the checkoff program a tax on trees, even though it isn't. Some people just simply refuse to see the facts, even when presented with them in a clear and concise manner.

I thought of an analogy for this:

If we go to the zoo and look at a giraffe, we're both looking at the same giraffe. But then you might say, "I think that's a mule."

I would respond, "No, it's not, it's a giraffe. We're both looking right at it, and mules are different from giraffes."

But you could still say, "I don't care. I think it's a mule and I'm going to call it a mule from now on no matter what you say."

And you do just that. You tell everyone who walks by that they're looking a mule. Maybe you even stand on a fencepost and shout it as loud as you can.

Well, that doesn't magically make the giraffe a mule just because you call it that. It just makes you wrong.

But the moral of this story is that unfortunately there are a lot of people out there who just believe what they are told. And if you tell them often enough and loud enough "that's a mule," some of them will believe you, even if they're looking right at the giraffe. For this audience, I just don't think it's worth it to keep replying, "It's not a tax" ... they're never going to believe us.

And then, the majority of people renew my faith. Here's a typical exchange:

From: Will
Sent: November 9, 2011 1:17 PM
Subject: the christmas tree tax

Last night when I first read about this, I KNEW it had to be some trade group behind this ... and it turns out it was YOUR group! Gee ... I wonder how much money you gave to or promised to give to Obama for this little favor ... hmmm.

And good thing it's been 'delayed." Why does your group even exist??? You're just trying to sponge off the taxpayers.

Here was my answer:

Agricultural producers have created promotional boards like this one since 1966, and they date back to the Johnson Administration. There are more than 20 such boards in existence currently, and some well-known promotional boards have developed successful advertising and promotion campaigns, including the "Got Milk?", "Pork: The Other White Meat" and the "Incredible Edible Egg."

There are zero tax dollars involved here. USDA bills all costs associated with these promotional efforts to the industry groups that create the boards.

These promotional boards are created when the industry gathers together and decide to petition USDA to create a promotional board. USDA reviews the petition, opens it up to industry and public comment, and then creates the board if it meets certain criteria. That is what happened here.

Fresh cut Christmas Tree producers have long been concerned about losing market share to artificial tree makers and foreign imports. In response, the domestic producers decided, as an industry and as is their right, to fund a promotional effort, similar to how the dairy processors created the "Got Milk?" campaign. They want to self-assess this 15-cent fee on domestic Christmas Trees for producers who sell more than 500 trees a year.

To ensure fairness, and as required by law, the USDA works with the industry at the start of this effort to ensure that consumers or growers are not gouged and to provide ongoing oversight to ensure the program meets its stated goals.

Many producers, from dairy farmers to livestock producers to blueberry growers, have created research and promotion boards because it increases their markets and they prosper.

Will wrote back:
From: Will
Sent: November 9, 2011 4:26 PM
Subject: RE: the christmas tree tax

Thanks for the reply. And I stand corrected re this being a tax. Thanks. But ... you gotta admit ... you've gotten some bad PR on this thing. Not a great time to be raising prices, or having your group tied to Obama. Anyway, good luck. And thanks again for the reply.

FWIW, I get a fresh tree every year.

Thanks, Will. It was folks like you who kept me going the past week or so.

Hey, I've got an idea. Next week, let's start talking about trees, shall we? We're only one week away from sales season opening. Woo-hoo!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

What the Checkoff Means to Me

A Guest Post from a Tree Farmer:

My husband and I have been in the Christmas Tree business since 1971, and I just wanted to take a moment to respond to some of the recent questions about the Christmas Tree checkoff. We are a small Christmas tree farm in the foothills of the Oregon Coast Range. We are primarily wholesalers, but have been retailers and now also have a small Choose & Cut operation. Our soils are suited to growing Christmas trees and not much else.

A checkoff is a program where commodity groups can help themselves to better their industry. A couple of the longest running ones are cotton and beef. They formed because there were incredible challenges in their industries that no one state or company could answer. When I was in high school, Sunday nights were spent ironing clothes for the next week at school. The cotton checkoff paid for the research that made permanent press cotton fabric possible. Do you remember how cotton clothes used to fade? The Cotton Checkoff paid for the research that paid for that, too. The cotton checkoff was formed because their industry was being overwhelmed by polyester fabric that didn't fade and didn't wrinkle.

By working together, industries such as cotton could pool their resources and speak with one voice. The assessment that is made is self-imposed funding by the industry to help itself. The monies are collected, and the program is designed and run by an industry board. Taxes are monies collected by the government for use by the government. Monies collected by checkoffs go directly to the checkoff to be used for research and promotion for that industry alone.

We petitioned the USDA as is our right under the First Amendment to the Constitution. We asked them to allow us to create a program, for which they would provide oversight. The industry pays for this oversight - it is revenue neutral to the government. The government doesn't get any of the money, and there is no cost to the taxpayer.

We did not do this lightly. It is a serious thing we were asking. The oversight is a good thing. A checkoff is audited annually. The checkoff boards must set goals to be met by the program. Every 5 or so years an econometric study must be done that tells whether or not those goals are met. If those goals are not met, the program folds. The USDA makes sure that money is used for what it is supposed to be used for.

A group of us growers and importers started more than three years ago in April of 2008 to study other commodities that have tried these programs. We focused on commodities that were similar in size: blueberries, mangoes, watermelons, sorghum and several others. We facilitated sessions in the four top growing areas of the country. By now there have been at least 100 meetings across the country at state and national Christmas tree meetings discussing the checkoff.

You asked how we can guarantee that the assessment would not be passed on to the consumer. We can't guarantee that. Each grower will make that decision. We are primarily wholesalers. In 2008, I contacted all our buyers, mostly retailers, and asked them how would they feel about this kind of promotion program and the assessment. They were all supportive and excited to get the kind of help in the marketplace that the checkoff could supply. Some offered to pay the whole thing, and some offered to split the cost, should it come into being.

Farmers know dirt. We know how to grow things. But in this changing world, is it not enough to grow a great product. We have to let people know about our product. That takes time, coordination and money.

Some people have asked why we don’t just pool our resources and keep USDA out of it. In the last 20 years, there have two very strong voluntary programs initiated by the industry that raised nearly a million dollars each. We have found, as every industry we studied found, that voluntary programs have a life of about three years. The volunteers running the program and paying into the program burn out. Everyone in the industry benefits, but only a few carry the burden. These two programs had great impact on our industry's ability to promote our product. We know promotion and research work. We have to do it as an industry to survive. A checkoff is fair, equitable and can supply sustainable monies.

Betty Malone, Sunrise Tree Farm

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Don't Believe Everything You Read ...

The NCTA office has been busy this morning – even busier than usual this time of the year. In case you missed it (and at least according to Twitter, almost no one has), several news media reported that Obama had donned a Grinch outfit and swept in to ruin Christmas for everyone by instituting a Christmas Tree tax.

Raise your hand if you heard this story and worried about the effect it would have on your Christmas Tree this year … ok, you can put your hands down because we want to set the story straight. There is NO Christmas Tree tax.

Yesterday, the USDA announced a final rule for the Christmas Tree Promotion, Research and Information Order, also known as a checkoff program. Not sure what that means? Well here are the basics:

1) President Obama does not hate Christmas – this program has nothing to do with the Obama Administration. In fact, agricultural producers have created promotional boards like this one since 1966. Christmas Tree producers, as an industry, began work on a potential checkoff program, more than four years ago.

2) Christmas Trees are not the only agricultural commodity that have a promotion board. If you’ve ever heard of “Got Milk?” or “The Incredible Edible Egg,” then you’re familiar with the work of promotion boards. Many producers, from dairy farmers to livestock producers to blueberry growers, have created research boards because it increases their markets and they prosper.

3) This is not your tax dollars at work. There are zero tax dollars involved here. Some have asked about the necessity of government involvement – this is to ensure fairness and is required by law. But the industry foots the bill for all necessary costs and administration.

4) You’re not going to see higher prices when you go to purchase your tree this Christmas. This is self-funded by producers who sell or import more than 500 trees. In fact, many growers have been paying much more than 15 cents a tree in the past to voluntary marketing programs, as well as their individual marketing costs.

We know there’s a lot of misinformation floating around out there, but we want to make sure you, the consumers, have the facts. Click here for more information.

Update: Just wanted to share a couple of articles we've seen.