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christmas tree farm??

 
phillip miller
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hello, this is my first post here, im from central Illinois. we are buying strip of corn field in from of our house. it is 1.5 acres. flat black dirt. I don't really want to have it back in corn and beans. but I also still want to farm it with something so that the taxes wont go up.
we have a 3 year old son that I would for him to be able to play on the ground as well. so all of this has brought me to the idea of starting a small Christmas tree farm. I already have a love for trees and growing stuff in general. and as a bonus our kids can still enjoy the field as well year round. I realize this might sound like a very small area, but will it work? will live in a town of 200 people and have a lot of small towns around us, 5 to 10 miles away.
from what I have read I can get around 1500 trees on that 1.5 acres over about 7 to 8 years time.
whats your thoughts? thanks
 
John Wolfram
Posts: 613
Location: Lafayette, Indiana
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Well, since it has been farmed corn and soy for a while, you might want to consider the conversation reserve program. It might require renting it out for corn/soy production for another year or so, but the CRP will give you an annual payment for letting the land move away from row crops.

If I were to ever buy row cropped land (it's pricey these days!), my general plan would be:

1. Rent to a farmer for a year or two to establish it's row croppy-ness while I'm the owner.
2. Put the land into the CRP for 10 years.
3. Plant fruit trees (persimmons, plums, pawpaws) from the state nursery (subsidized from the CRP, of course).
4. Collect CRP payments while the trees grow.
5. Start an orchard with mature trees, or renew CRP after 10 years.
 
Cristo Balete
Posts: 414
Location: In the woods, West Coast USA
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I think you are asking the right question about who will buy the trees. Where are they getting them now? People who want to take a day or part of a day to have a tree-cutting experience are not the same group who just wants to get one and take it home. You'll also need a big area for people to park and turn around in, a good sized area to offer flocking, if you want, and a place to put on bases. There is something about if you help people tie the tree on and it blows off, they can blame you for it. So some places only the customer can tie the tree on, facing the correct way, of course.

It will take perhaps 6+ years with you really pampering the trees to get them to all the sizes necessary.

You need to check out insurance for sending inexperienced and possibly tipsy people out with saws and small children running around. Times have changed, insurance companies are not as agreeable as they used to be.

The Christmas tree farms around here have other attractions, like a tractor that pulls a wagon with people riding in it, picnic tables, donkey rides, straw bale mazes. They also do pumpkins and mazes for Halloween, so they are covering two holidays. Sell hot chocolate and coffee (needs a permit.) Know the rules, like there has to be 2 gates for cars to enter and leave, and not run into each other in a muddy parking lot. Mud will be everywhere, slippery ice and snow. People do the craziest things in parking lots, sometimes even stopping right smack in the middle of the driveway, blocking the whole place. Do you have a truck you can pull them out if they get stuck?


Do you want every holiday to be a working holiday? All those weekends you'll have to work, while your family wants to go do something on the weekends. I caught a lot of grief for this one.

One of the older Christmas tree farms here just cuts their trees and sells them on a small, local lot, already on wooden bases.

I think what it comes down to is, do you want to spend the first 3+ weeks in December, (and possibly the 4 weeks/weekends of October) in the rain and snow and cold wind, outside with people who show up at random times, (who don't show up if it's raining, sometimes they will if it's snowing, and fewer in bad winds.) I've seen rainy weekends in October that just ruin the business of the straw bale mazes. You have to be open and available for them whenever they show up. Are you really a people person? Do you like spending all day with strangers who come and go, and all the personalities involved with that (and there are plenty). Or are you a grower who wants to spend time growing, and let someone else do the selling? Do you really, really like sharpening saws?

I've noticed in rural areas people tend to grow their own vegetables, have chickens, so they don't necessarily buy much of those weekly things. Although eggs do well.

If you want to invest in a vineyard you don't want to make wine, you can sell your grapes (assuming they are the right kind and in demand and suitable to your soil) to winemakers. Growing grapes involves a lot of chemistry, soil type, taking care of perennials, using winemaking equipment, understanding fermentation and bacteria. There's lots for kids to learn about the scientific/natural world with something like that. Ice wine is really popular where it's really cold and the wine grapes can freeze on the vine. You are more on your own schedule and can have time for your family.
 
Cristo Balete
Posts: 414
Location: In the woods, West Coast USA
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Oh, and it gets dark early in December, so you'd have to close early. There is a limited amount of time the sun is up in December, but you have to be up regardless. The day after Thanksgiving is when it all starts, so you can't be away at a relative's house for Thanksgiving that's more than a couple hours' drive. In fact, getting ready for the day after Thanksgiving would need to happen before or on Thanksgiving. It's stressful. There is a lot of sitting around, waiting for people to show up.

And if you sold already-cut trees somewhere else, you just have to sit there and wait for people, in the cold wind and snow. You can't get anything done at your place/farm, which always needs doing. So that can require hiring part-time help. But it's a cash business, so you have to be sure you can trust the people you hire.

 
phillip miller
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I don't mind strange folks coming to the house, I build and sell farm tables and we sell baby koi fish. so we are used to that. as far as where folks are buying trees... it 20 miles one way and 30 the other to the nearest Christmas tree farm. I would want to do the cut your own type. family gatherings are no more then 30 miles away and I don't mind the work, im the type that cant sit still, always have a project going on. and thank God my wonderful family joins right in.
i thought about the crp program, don't know much about it yet. but we don't really need to make our money back out of the land because we got the house garage and 2.5 acres for 1315.00 bucks!! ( long story ) the house and garage are on one acre and the corn field is on the 1.5 acres.
as far as parking, we live on a dead end street. im the only house on it. that always helps for parking. and the garage would be a great place to set up shop for the Christmas season.
we already have grapes, peaches, apples, cherries and blackberries. more peach trees and grapes would be nice though. cant get enough of the grape jelly.
there is a chicken house over there as well, so chickens will be coming soon
 
Cristo Balete
Posts: 414
Location: In the woods, West Coast USA
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Sounds like you know what you're in for, Phillip.

A couple other things to consider. People tend to want a very specific kind of Christmas tree, so look into that before you commit a chunk of land to trees. You may need a variety.

The majority of people in the US are over 55, so that's not likely to be your customer base. Find out the average age and number of children per household in the surrounding area, see if there's enough of the type of folks (usually with kids) close enough to come there.

Find out what the other X-mas tree farms are offering for appeal, and come up with something else that's new and exciting so you look different If you are into growing holly and other plants that make wreaths, you can save some space for that, but wreaths have to be made starting the week before Thanksgiving
 
phillip miller
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thanks, what would you suggest for a ground cover on a Christmas tree farm?
 
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