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Michigan Christmas tree farmers anticipating 'the best year'

Christmas tree farmers across Michigan are anticipating that 2018 will be the best sales year in a while.

A tightening in other markets led Michigan farmers to see increases in wholesale farmhouse decor sales, and there is an upswing in people wanting cut their own tree, Michigan Christmas Tree Association Executive Director Amy Start said.

"If you grow up with a real tree you tend to want that for your family," Start said.

The Michigan tree farmers' optimism about this selling season is justifiable, National Christmas Tree Association spokesman Doug Hundley said, noting that the farmers are probably getting in orders from other states like North Carolina where the supply was low.

Nationally, if there is an uptick in sales it will be slight, Hundley said. Farmers sold 27.4 million real Christmas trees were sold in each of the last two years, according to theNational Christmas Tree Association's consumer survey conducted by Nielsen/Harris. The nine-year average is 27.8 million. The association represents growers across the U.S.

"We feel like there’s a lot of interest in young families to try out real trees if they haven’t used them before," Hundley said.

It's definitely about tradition, both ongoing and new, at Wilson's Tannenbaum Farm, at 13769 N Drive North in Battle Creek, where Cindy and Bruce Wilson have grown and sold trees for 30 years.

"We actually have had more people every year since we started," Bruce said. "It’s not as if people are just kind of going away with it. The people we started with now, their kids are doing it and their grandkids are doing it."

Bruce and Cindy took to tree farming after their neighbors decided to sell their farm. They didn't know much about trees, but, with the help of their neighbors, learned over time.

"We knew them really well, and we helped them plant a few trees," Bruce said. "I have learned about as much as you can about a tree. You know, we trim them, and we plant them, and we are going to start irrigation next year."

On average, farmers sell about 2 million trees a year in Michigan and other wholesale home decor markets,according to the The Michigan Tree Association, which represents more than 125 tree farmers out of 500 in the state,

"We have seen an uptick," Start said.

Michigan trees don't just stay in Michigan. The state ranks third for the number of trees it harvests and exports.

"We provide trees for all over the U.S. and other countries," Start said.

Start thinks more people just want to enjoy the experience of going to a tree farm and that the movement to be more environmentally conscious has helped sell more trees since they are biodegradable.

They also provide a habitat for wildlife and help with watershed quality and air quality, since they release oxygen, said Bert Cregg, a Michigan State University professor of horticulture and forestry.

When looking at sustainability in environmental, social and economic terms, Cregg says, the real trees take the cake for most sustainable.

"The thing I like to focus on more is supporting the local economy," Cregg said. "You are supporting local communities."

A recent study by the American Christmas Tree Association, which represents the artificial tree manufacturers, concluded that artificial trees "have a more favorable effect on the environment if reused for at least five years"

Under certain circumstances, Cregg noted, artificial trees could make less of a carbon footprint, like when someone keeps a tree for 20 years and isn't using the gas to drive and get a new tree every year.

"People can slice and dice this different ways," he said.

Wilson's Tannenbaum Farm opened on Black Friday with thousands of trees for customers to choose from for this holiday season. (Photo: Kalea Hall/The Enquirer)

The roughly 60-acre Wilson's Tannenbaum Farm has between 15,000-20,000 trees, species including Fraser fir, white pine, white spruce, blue spruce, concolor fir, balsam fir, Norway spruce and Serbian spruce.

The Fraser fir is the most popular.

It's $35 for a cut-your-own blue spruce and all the other trees are $7 per foot.

"We take care of all the roads so you can drive back and take a saw and go cut on your own," Bruce said.

Wilson's also sells live potted trees and has pre-cut trees, wreaths, decorative pieces and accessories.

Opening day at the farm was the day after Thanksgiving, — also known as Black Friday in the retail world — and the place was busy. The farm typically sells 1,200 to 1,500 trees through Christmas Day.

The Hollander family, Noah and Laura and their daughters, Gretta, 6, and Lyza, 4, from Battle Creek ventured out to Wilson's for a second year on Black Friday.

Laura and Noah Hollander took their daughters, Gretta, 6, and Lyza, 4, to Wilson's Tannenbaum Farm to get a tree for this holiday season. (Photo: Kalea Hall/The Enquirer)

"It was a tradition for me growing up," Laura Hollander said of getting a real tree. "It’s nice to start your own family traditions when you have your own kids."

Richard and DarShan Goodman from Marshall and their two-year-old daughter Naomi continued their family tradition on Black Friday of getting a real Christmas tree.

DarShan and Richard Goodman took their daughter, Naomi, 2, to pick out a tree at Wilson's Tannenbaum Farm on Black Friday. (Photo: Kalea Hall/The Enquirer)

"I think it's a good experience for our children," Richard said. "It's just a fun experience for them."

When people leave their farm, they leave happy, the Wilsons say.

"It’s a wonderful time because everyone is a good mood to come out here and get their trees. It’s a happy occasion," Cindy said. "Everybody is pretty jolly and happy to be here and it’s nice to see the same people come. I mean we've had people coming here for 30 years."