From: Jay Woodworth – Farm Focus
Christmas tree production is a staple industry in Nova Scotia and in Atlantic Canada as a whole. According to Statistics Canada, Nova Scotia’s annual Christmas tree exports are valued at more than $7 million.
Approximately 90 percent of the trees harvested in Nova Scotia are exported out of the province, either through brokers or customers in Canada or abroad. The largest markets for Nova Scotia trees are the United States (75 percent) and Panama (20 percent), with the remainder going to several other markets, especially within the Caribbean, but some as far away as the United Arab Emirates.
There is estimated to be more than 15,000 acres of Christmas trees in production in Nova Scotia, with the majority in Lunenburg County.
The Christmas Tree Council of Nova Scotia suggests that this valuable commodity is shared among a little more than 300 growers. And as growers age, the number consistently declines.
The Nova Scotia Christmas tree industry provides 4,000 full-time and part-time jobs and has deep roots in the province’s history. Recently, the industry has seen spikes in demand as younger consumers request sustainable and environmentally friendly products that have the bonus of providing a family experience.
Markets also continue to expand because of a recent shortage of U.S.-grown trees, successful promotion efforts by the Christmas Tree Promotion Board in the U.S., and even Taylor Swift’s 2019 “Christmas Tree Farm” song. Predictions suggest that this surge will last well into the coming years. This has presented the industry with an opportunity to increase production, and Nova Scotia has been at the forefront of preparing for this expansion for some time.
Investments in research paired with government support have lined Nova Scotia up to be a leader in production. If there was ever a part of you that wanted to gear up a Christmas tree side hustle, now is the time to start.
Growing Christmas trees in Atlantic Canada requires minimal effort since the traditional Balsam fir tree is native to the area and astoundingly resilient. However, proper site selection and consistent management will yield competitive Balsam fir trees faster, which translates to profit.
A good site for Christmas tree production is quite different than a good site for crop production and takes significantly less time to build up. A site for Christmas trees mainly needs to avoid frost pockets, be relatively flat and accessible, and have either eastern or northern exposure, adequate drainage, and low ground cover. Often, Christmas trees can be grown on marginal farmland if wet spots are avoided.
Christmas tree lots can be set up in three basic styles – natural regeneration, natural regeneration with interplanting, or plantation. The style will be determined based on the land, the equipment, and the resources that you have at your disposal for the next eight to 12 years while the trees are growing, as well as how you intend to market your trees.
Most lots in Nova Scotia are natural regeneration style. This means that trees have been encouraged in areas where they already existed. Cutover stands were thinned to expose fir, and those fir trees were encouraged and allowed to produce seed. As a result, most natural regeneration stands have tall seed trees and sale trees at a variety of ages throughout the lot. This style makes seeding cheap and effortless. However, with natural regeneration, old seed trees are prone to pests and disease, there is limited control over density and planting location, and the lots are generally hard to manage, requiring manual amendment application, shearing, and harvesting.
Some growers opt to interplant seedlings into natural regeneration stands. This style is called natural regeneration with interplanting, and it can result in better genetics, density, and planting control compared to natural regeneration.
Parts of Eastern Canada and the U.S. have adopted the plantation style, which involves planting trees at a predetermined spacing in rows across a field or plantation site (like a monoculture). This allows for density control, drastically improves accessibility, and simplifies management and harvest. However, in some cases, plantations require more management work, such as mowing between rows and pest and disease control.
Yields depend on the lot style. However, growers usually aim for a planting density of 1,200 trees per acre.
The industry is currently supported by numerous technical resources, educational opportunities, and research projects. Nova Scotia has three regional Christmas tree grower associations – the Lunenburg County Christmas Tree Producers’ Association, the Northeastern Christmas Tree Association, and the Cobequid Christmas Tree Producers’ Association. These associations fall under the umbrella of the Christmas Tree Council of Nova Scotia.
Reaching out to the Christmas Tree Council of Nova Scotia, your local association, or Perennia are the best ways to learn about opportunities in your area.
The next major opportunity is this month. The Christmas Tree Council of Nova Scotia is launching a virtual conference – titled the Balsam Fir Forum – on Aug. 21 on all things Christmas trees, including soil fertility, business planning, integrated pest management, health and safety, and more.
More than a dozen specialized speakers from across Atlantic Canada and North America will participate. Information on the Balsam Fir Forum and registration (including early bird tickets) can be found at www.balsamfirforum.com.