Bear Valley Farm

Rows of trees line a hillside on Bear Valley Farm. The  rainy year has not stopped a fine crop of Fraser firs, long known as the “Cadillac of Christmas trees.” 

By Dave Russell

 

A pandemic and a rainy, cool 2020 can’t stop Jackson County’s Cadillac.

Customers seeking to cut their own Fraser fir, long recognized as the “Cadillac of Christmas trees,” have plenty of healthy trees to chose from this year.

“From what I’ve been hearing from the farmers, it’s been a pretty good year, even considering the pandemic,” said Katie Ashley, N.C. State horticulture extension agent for Jackson and Swain counties. “For choose-and-cut, there will be innovative plans to keep visitors safe, even including the potential for online ordering and delivery options. The choose-and-cut farmers are working to maintain and establish the highest safety standards possible for visitors, and the wholesalers are doing the same for their farmworkers and other staff.”

The market seems about like last year, with prices good for producers and not so good for customers.

“There is still a shortage of trees, and the majority of growers sell out early in the year,” Ashley said.

The roots of the shortage and resulting price increase go back to about 2000, when larger farms planted too many trees during boom years. By the time those trees were mature enough to harvest, seven to nine years for a Fraser fir, prices plummeted as the national economy bottomed out.

Many growers got out of the business due to the recession of 2008-09.

“We also have worked to put together a video farm tour for Jackson County, as our farm tour was canceled for this year,” Ashley said. “It showcases a few growers and some of the research Extension has going on. It offers insight into our Christmas tree industry and showcases some of our Christmas tree growers in Jackson County.”

Glenville’s Bear Valley Farm, previously Hutch’s Mountain Trees, will have 3,000 to 4,000 trees for choose-and-cut spread over about 65 acres, manager Jerry McAbee said.

“The trees are looking great,” he said. “We’ve had plenty of rainfall over the year. We never had 5-6 inches of rain at one time, it was sort of even over the year. Trees love that kind of weather. They’ve got great color and have put on more growth than I have seen in a long time.”

McAbee anticipates a strong market. The farm’s wholesale operation sold out of trees in the spring, he said.

“With the COVID crisis, well have to manage the choose-and-cut operation as best we can, follow as many of the guidelines as we can,” he said. “We’re putting in extra tractors and wagons to take people out.”

Grandy Mountain Farm & Landscaping plans to have about 1,000 trees for choose and cut, owner Ron Fowler said.

The plethora of rain has not been good for all of his trees, he said.

“The smaller seedlings, especially in areas where drainage is poor, have been affected due to too much water,” he said. “The mortality seemed to be higher in those areas. Our older trees fared OK.”

The market looks good for farmers, he said.

“There is a shortage of Christmas trees, which at this point makes it good for the farmers,” he said.

He has a COVID plan.

“We’ll follow state guidelines and have hand sanitation stations and that kind of thing,” he said.

Tom Sawyer Tree Farm and Elf Village, which offers a more immersive experience for tree shoppers, would adjust its operation as well, owner Tom Sawyer said.

Elf Village will not feature live elves this year, and kids will not sit on Santa’s lap.

“The elves couldn’t get on the plane from the North Pole,” he said.

The farm is expanding weekday hours to encourage folks to come Monday through Friday, he said.

“That way, they can spread out more and run around the farm,” he said.

His trees have grown well and have good color, Sawyer said.

“The trees don’t like drought, and they don’t like too much rain,” he said. “When there was too much water, it dried out quickly, and all the trees look good.”

Sawyer’s wholesale operation has sold out, but he still gets multiple calls a day from buyers, he said.