Checkoff program lets MCTA branch out
UPPERCO, Md. — This year’s Winter Meeting of the Maryland Christmas Tree Association opened with remarks from Gary Thomas, MCTA’s current president and owner of Winterfarm near Jarrettsville.
He said his choose-and-cut Christmas tree farm “closed out early” this year “just as they have for the last couple of years.”
Thomas also noted that their farm was not the only farm among the MCTA’s members to do so this past holiday season.
“The concern is that people will go buy an artificial tree because they couldn’t get a live tree,” he said.
Thomas then pointed to the national checkoff program which supports the several research and promotional efforts of the Christmas Tree Promotion Board as one way to continue to reinforce the real tree message.
He also noted the CTPB is working to address the declining number of Christmas tree researchers due to retirements.
One such recent retiree, Chuck Schuster, a former Extension educator in commercial horticulture for the University of Maryland Extension, then opened the educational segment of the winter meeting with an update from the Maryland Department of Agriculture on pesticide regulation and enforcement. Beginning with a federal update, Schuster reminded the attendees that “we are starting to see real enforcement of the minimum age requirement of 18 years old to earn a pesticide license.”
He also later highlighted the minimum age of 18 years under the Worker Protection Standard for pesticide applications, stating workers must be at least 18 years old unless they are immediate family members.
Throughout his presentations, Schuster emphasized the need for attendees to keep good, detailed records of their pesticide applications. “Records are the driver,” he said, “The most common enforcement violation — 30 percent of all violations — are record-based.”
Thomas then discussed the results of his small sample experiment with mail order Christmas trees before beginning his presentation on weed control programs.
He indicated that the six-and-a-half foot Fraser fir he ordered from Dutchman Tree Farm in northwest Michigan not only arrived in the best shape, having been shipped in a custom box that protected its top, but it also lasted the longest.
Citing a December 2019 Washington Post article, which stated “most artificial trees are sold online,” Thomas pointed out the ability to order such high quality live trees online “is good for the industry.”
He and Tim Strathmore of Ground Roots, a Dover Pennsylvania provider of evergreen stock and supplies, then gave an extensive presentation on their weed control programs discussing equipment used, fescue blends, the timing of different processes, and the effectiveness of the newer white clover variety, Durana, in fixing nitrogen and managing deer.
Gary Westlake, a CTPB representative from Pennsylvania, gave the annual update on the Board’s activities, noting that they had “received funding to really grow the program for the next 7 years.” Further, in addition to the year’s successful “KeepItReal365” hashtag, CTPB tracked 78 naturally occurring articles and pieces on real Christmas trees, including a “made in America piece by ABC News anchor David Muir and Taylor Swift’s new song, “Christmas Tree Farm.”
Westlake also reiterated their renewed efforts to address the declining number of industry researchers due to retirements. He urged the attendees to respond to the recent e-newsletter survey about research priorities.
In the afternoon, the attendees heard from a panel of experienced Christmas tree growers: Bill Underwood of Pine Valley Christmas Trees in Elkton, Maryland; Marshall Stacy of Pinetum Christmas Trees in Swanton, Maryland; and, Mehrl Mayne of Mayne’s Tree Farm in Buckeystown, Maryland.
While all three had a wealth of information and growing tips to offer, Stacy, who specializes in growing big trees in the range of 15 to 40 feet, urged newer Christmas tree farmers “to figure out where you fit in the whole scheme of Christmas trees” before establishing your farm because, thanks to the cultural traditions aspect of the business, “once you establish your niche, it’s difficult to change it.”
Joncie Underwood, also of Pine Valley Christmas Trees, closed out the Winter Meeting with a presentation on add-on sales. In addition to discussions about free versus not free, how to handle greens sales, and whether or not to include sales tax in the final tree price — they do because of their close proximity to Delaware, which doesn’t charge sales tax — Underwood talked about the logistics behind establishing gift shop sales, particularly ornaments.
She also highlighted a very successful add-on they began just a few years ago, tee-shirts featuring the farm’s logos.
Sold in both short- and long-sleeved versions, Underwood said, “the best thing about them is if you don’t sell all your inventory in one year, they’re easy to put away and sell the next year.”
1-800-634-5021 410-822-3965 Fax- 410-822-5068
P.O. Box 2026 Easton, MD 21601-8925