Business booming at tree farms despite recession

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Stacy Vogel
Monday, December 7, 2009
— People have been asking Cully Pillman to allow them to cut their own Christmas trees at his nursery for years, he said.

So this year, he decided to give it a shot. He originally made only 50 available for cutting at Woodhill Farms Nursery, N1445 Highway 120, Lake Geneva, but he quickly increased the limit.

“I decided, ‘Aw, what the heck, it’s going really good,’” he said.

Pillman believes the bad economy is making cut-your-own trees more attractive to families than pre-cut ones. He sells all of his cut-your-own trees for $25 no matter the size, while his fresh-cut ones start at $25 for a 6-foot tree.

Whatever the type, a Christmas tree doesn’t seem like something families are willing to cut back on during the recession. Owners of tree farms in Rock and Walworth counties said business is booming in the first weeks of the season.

“I think people, no matter what’s going on, they’re still having a Christmas tree,” said Ann Feucht, co-owner of Evergreen Acres, N9171 Nelson Road, East Troy.

Becky Feltham of Country Side Trees, W6611 N. Walworth Road, Walworth, said customers seemed to want smaller trees last year, but they’re going for the bigger ones again this year.

The farm has been busy so far this year, but Feltham has noticed a decline in sales in the last three or four years, she said.

“We’ve noticed more people are either not getting a tree or they’ve gone to an artificial,” she said.

But Feucht said sales are stronger than ever at Evergreen Acres. She’s seeing new, younger customers who want to turn getting their Christmas trees into family experiences, she said.

“People are returning to those traditions of just out doing things together,” she said. “Rather than just getting it done, they’re actually spending the time together.”

Arlana Richardson said she hasn’t noticed a drop in tree sales but has seen a decline in wreath sales at Out on a Limb Christmas Tree Farm, 7776 S. County Line Road, Clinton.

“With the economy right now, that’s the thing you don’t have to have,” she said.

Still, she said business has been growing since she and her husband started the business 15 years ago. They were looking for money to put their kids through college, and a Christmas tree farm seemed to fit with her husband’s schedule as a teacher.

They plant the trees during spring break, and much of the work falls during summer vacation.

“It’s a little tougher this time of year,” she said. “We get pretty tired because we both work full time … Then we have Christmas vacation to recoup.”

One of the difficult aspects is guessing what kind of trees people will like six to 12 years in advance, she said. When the farm first opened, Scotch and white pines were the most popular trees. They tend to grow full and big, but Scotch pines are prickly, and white pines don’t always hold ornaments well, Richardson said.

After a few years, they started planting more Fraser firs because people were asking for them. The firs hold their needles well and don’t fill out as much, so there are larger gaps for ornaments.

“It’s the old-fashioned Christmas tree,” she said.

Richardson said the farm does its best to keep up with the trends at larger tree farms that plant hundreds of thousands of trees a year, compared to its 20,000 to 30,000 trees a year.

“You have to kind of see what’s happening,” she said.

Last updated: 12:14 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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