Christmas Tree Farming

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The season lasts about six weeks for Christmas tree farmers, but the workload continues throughout the year.

The latest U-S Census figures -- from 2002 -- show some 200 growers cultivate about 26-hundred acres on 253 Christmas tree farms in Georgia.

The executive director of the 95-member Georgia Christmas Tree Association -- Coy Dillahunty -- says grower numbers are about half
of what they were in the mid-1980s. And he says the numbers are declining.

He says most growers today are part-time farmers working other full-time jobs.

Dillahunty says growing Christmas trees demands physical labor and many growers are getting too old to continue the work. Others are selling their land to real estate developers. He says people who treat the business as a hobby will become disenchanted.

The 75-year-old Dillahunty is among those quitting the business. He's grown trees for 25 years and has felled hundreds of Leyland cypresses on the land outside his home near Concord in Pike County
-- about 60 miles south of Atlanta. But he's developed an allergy to the trees and has been told by his doctor he has to quit.

The National Christmas Tree Growers Association shows 27 (m) million people bought real trees in 2004 -- three times as many as those who bought artificial ones.

Among the growers is Clay Cuthbertson whose livelihood depends on the narrow six-week window between Thanksgiving and December 15th -- the time when most people buy their Christmas trees. He makes the seven-and-a half hour trip from his farm -- Snowy Mountain Trees -- near Sugar Mountain Resort in Avery County, North Carolina, to Savannah six times during that period.

About 75 percent of Cuthbertson's business is wholesale. The remaining 25 percent depends on the number of trees sold off his lot at Mall Way in Savannah.

Dillahunty closed his business Sunday. But he is teaching a neighbor -- 14-year-old Tom Callaway -- how to grow Christmas trees. In exchange, the boy helps Dillahunty cut and load trees.
Next year, the boy plans to sell trees when he's NOT in school.

Dillahunty says he's pleased with the exchange. As he puts it, "So far, I think I've come out ahead."