MCTA has summer meeting at Cawley’s Farm
DENTON, Md. — Despite intermittent downpours on June 26, Charles Cawley welcomed members of the Maryland Christmas Tree Association to his tree farm for the organization’s summer meeting.
After a description of his operation and a warning not to throw the tennis ball for his dog, “Snookums,” or you’d be doing it the rest of the day, Cawley turned the meeting over to Gary Thomas, MCTA president, for a brief business meeting. Cawley told the assembly of some 65 people one of his biggest mistakes was not attending meetings such as this before he started in the business.
Thomas agreed, saying, “It’s a tough industry to get into.”
He added that he started work this spring with five high-school students and two quit within eight hours. “Now I’m down to one person willing to do the work.”
Officers were elected: Mehrl Mayne, president; Charles Cawley, vice president; Jim Waller, secretary; and Joncie Underwood, treasurer.
Gary Westlake, Eastern region director for the Christmas Tree Promotion Board, acknowledged that finding help is a common problem for growers on the Eastern Coast. “No one wants to work,” he said.
Other problems are an aging industry and declining membership in state associations. “We’re see a lot of state association consolidation,” Westlake noted.
For example, Oregon and Washington recently combined into the “Pacific Northwest.”
The Great Lakes Christmas Tree Journal, which covers a wide variety of regions, has replaced many individual state publications. Fifteen to 20 states rely on it, Westlake said.
Active for 65 years, CTPB is a national promotion and research organization funded by North American Christmas tree growers and governed by the USDA. Westlake said, “We share the reality that tree growing is a year-round task, not something accomplished in six weeks.”
One of the biggest pushes by CTPB in the last year is the online Retail Locator at https://itschristmaskeepitreal.com/find-a-retailer/. Westlake said, “We took the best we’ve seen from other retail locators and made our own. It is absolutely free to anyone who grows Christmas trees.”
Last year was the first year for the website and one complaint was the number of big box stores included. Westlake explained CTPB is required by law to open the site to anyone who sells Christmas trees. “The idea is to promote live trees,” he said. “The big box stores have employees to sign up. It’s a slower process for a small operation.”
By clicking the bar next to zip code, you can refine your search by type of operation.
Retailers need to sign up every year. They are asked to provide contact information, dates of first and last sale days, hours and social media links and to specify tree species available.
Under “Tree Guide,” the site also has photos and descriptions of 20 varieties of trees. Growers may download these for their own website or literature without asking, free of charge.
Growers are asked not to use the words “artificial,” “fake” or “shortage.” Rather, they might admit real trees are in “tight supply,” which they have been since about 2015 due to smaller planting levels after an oversupply situation in the 1990s.
It takes seven to 10 years on average to grow from seedlings to harvestable trees.
Research is the other function of the CTPB. “We are always looking for research ideas,” Westlake said.
Cyndi Knudson is CTPB’s director of research. Ongoing research includes studying many different species, researching needle retention and cloning trees for seed orchards. One newer tree, the Trojan Horse Fir or simply Trojan fir (Abies nordmanniana subsp. equi-trojani), is closely related to Turkish fir and Nordmann fir. It is native to Turkey. The country of Georgia, just to the north of Turkey, experienced great cone/seed production this year. The CTPB will distribute seed for trials in 20 states. Transplants will be available in the near future, Knudson said.
Chuck Schuster, recently retired from University of Maryland Extension but still active in the horticulture community, offered an update on pesticide requirements. Before he began speaking, he was made an honorary lifetime member of the MCTA.
During the pandemic, Schuster said, many staff members at Maryland Department of Agriculture worked from their homes. “Any time they were called, they responded,” he added. He warned that inspections were to return to pre-pandemic levels on July 1. “Keep your records up to date. Get your licenses and tags up to date. Professional licenses expired Dec. 30, 2020; the grace period was until June 1. Late fees will be assessed beginning Aug. 1.”
Continuing education requirements have not been removed or reduced, Schuster said, although the restriction to one online class per three-year cycle has been waived for the foreseeable future.
To ascertain that you get credits for continuing ed programs, you need your licenses and certification number. “Businesses are licensed; people are certified,” Schuster said.
For renewals online, you need a “secret code” which was sent via postcard in December 2020 and also via email. If you don’t have it, you can call MDA.
You can get continuing education credit for filling out a Pesticide Use Survey. This information “helps in fights in Annapolis,” Schuster said. “We need the data so we can see what is being used. Names are protected. They only want the raw numbers.” The form is complicated, but you can call MDA to get help filling it out.
Schuster noted a bill was introduced into Maryland General Assembly that would have prohibited use of glyphosate after Oct. 1, 2022.
The bill was tabled for summer study.
“If they take this away, what’s next?” he wondered aloud. “What will we fall back on?”
There are new regulations pertaining to the Pesticide Applicator’s Law, available through the MDA website. Schuster reminded the audience that private pesticide applicators are only allowed to make applications on property they own or rent. According to forthcoming federal changes, application age will be raised to 18. All commercial use of restricted use pesticides (RUP) will no longer be allowed to be applied by employees working under the supervision of a licensed applicator.
Use and sale of Carbofuran (Furadan) is illegal. Call MDA if you have any to be disposed of.
Complaints at MDA are up because people are seeing more because they’re home more. Schuster observed. “If asked what you’re applying, think carefully and be willing to talk. Don’t say ‘None of your business’! If you have a problem, notify MDA so they can be prepared.
“MDA is a team player. They want to be part of the team. They are not out to get you.”