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West Mich. tree farmers buck national trend

By Austin Metz/The Holland Sentinel • Dec 18, 2017 at 1:00 PM

Despite national reports of potential Christmas tree shortages, tree farms in West Michigan have so far experienced a successful season.

Whether it is Blue Star Tree Farm in Fennville, Bosch’s Countryview Nursery in Allendale, or Prince Christmas Trees and its three locations, tree farmers are reporting a strong year, comparable or better than the last two years.

Brian Bosch has been working in the tree business for 40 years now and his farm, Bosch’s Countryview Nursery, located at 10785 84th Ave. in Allendale, is experiencing a successful 2017 season.

Based on conversations he has had with other farmers across the country, though, he confirmed there are shortages in many states.

“At Bosch’s, it has been a strong selling year for the real Christmas trees,” Bosch said. “I can sense that there are maybe some shortages across the country, not so much locally at my farm but across the country. By some of the phone calls coming to me, there have been some shortages.”

Bosch said the reason behind the shortages in other parts of the country is the economic struggles of 2008 and 2009. When the economy took a turn, businesses, including tree farms, had to make cuts. That meant planting less trees. With the longer tree growth cycle, farmers are feeling the impact now more than in the past.

On the local level, tree farmers, like area crop farmers, have had to deal with the economic curveballs, and also mother nature’s curveballs. Whether it was the early warm-up, a late freeze, drought-like conditions or the rain West Michigan experienced in the fall, tree farmers are susceptible.

“We are always monitoring the water,” Bosch said. “If it is dry, then we pull out irrigation or we have drip-line irrigation on a lot of our farm. If it needs water, we are going to water it. Everyday we are paying attention to that.”

Despite the challenges this year, Bosch said the farm has been able to maintain prices rather than increase them like some may think.

And as for output this year at Bosch’s? The farm expects to provide Christmas trees for at least a couple thousand families this year.

At Blue Star Tree Farm, located at 6694 120th Ave. in Fennville, business is on pace or slightly above last year’s turnout — and, like Bosch’s, the farm has irrigation in place if needed throughout the summer.

“It has been a good year so far and we haven’t lost any trees so far,” said Benito Guerra of Blue Star Tree Farm. “This year has been better than the last two years.”

Guerra said the farm has high expectations for the coming years.

Prince Christmas Trees has three locations — at 5620 96th Ave. in Zeeland, 10342 Buchanan St. in West Olive and on 112th Ave. in Robinson Township. The farm, run by Paul Prince, a third-generation tree farmer, has also had a successful 2017 campaign so far in both their U-cut and the pre-cut trees. The only struggle this past year was monitoring dry conditions.

“In September, it was abnormally hot and dry, but we were able to cover that with irrigation so we were able to countermeasure that so it didn’t really hurt us,” Prince said. “It was expensive to irrigate, but we were able to protect the quality of the tree and keep them nice.”

As for overall tree turnout, Prince said the farm was right where it wanted to be or even slightly above where the farm had been in the past few years.

And sales? Prince said the turnout has been good.

“All things considered, this season has been good,” he said. “And then, when we had that first snow, we had another flurry of folks who were possibly waiting for that first snow. No complaints on the sales at all.”

Similar to Bosch’s, Prince said pricing will remain about the same as years past, with only a slight increase, if any.

Advice from the farmers on how to pick the right tree

First, consider the size of the space the tree will go in, and do not overbuy.

Second, look at the overall color of the tree.

And lastly, check the health of the pine needles. A healthy tree will have needles that bend rather than break.

For more information about the tree farms mentioned in the article, visit each farm on Facebook for pricing and tree availability.

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