Have you ever been in the wrong place at the wrong time? Or have you been a part of a conversation where someone misrepresents you? Christmas tree farmers across the country are currently victims of both.
Michigan is traditionally one of the top Christmas tree growing states, supported by their own Christmas Tree Association. Growers there and across the country have been working with the USDA for several years to create a check-off program which would require growers to pay 15 cents for each tree sold. The pooled earnings would then be used in a promotion program to support Christmas Tree farms, similar to other check-off campaigns such as “Got Milk?” promoting the dairy industry, “Beef: It’s What’s for Dinner” endorsing the beef consumption and “The Incredible Edible Egg” encouraging egg sales and about 15 other USDA promotion and research boards for agricultural commodities. When a check-off program is approved, a board of industry representatives is formed to make decisions on how to promote or research the commodities involved (see a recent USDA check-off blog here).
This promotion program could have helped Christmas tree growers fight competition from artificial trees, which has plagued the industry for years. Because of lost market share, Christmas tree growers petitioned to set up its own promotional program after years of concern. And recent threats have come from environmental groups, who claim Christmas tree farms are bad for the environment, because of the loss of trees.
The whole conversation came to a halt right before Thanksgiving, as the White House announced its decision to reverse the decision to approve the check-off program. Apparently, conservatives, such as Rush Limbaugh, accused the USDA and federal government of spoiling Christmas with a new “tax”.
So is it a tax or a check-off? You can decide. But I will tell you that out of all the taxes I pay, none are pooled to promote an industry I am directly involved in; which means Christmas tree growers were just in the wrong place, at the wrong time, with misrepresentation from many, and an impending presidential campaign at the center of it all.
On a side note, I found a comprehensive list for Christmas tree growers in Delaware on the DE Department of Agriculture website. Do your part to support our neighboring farmers and buy your live tree local this year!