N.C. Christmas trees find new markets in Latin America

by | Apr 30, 2012

The N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services helps to promote exports of N.C. agricultural products through its International Marketing office. Through these efforts, North Carolina now exports about $3 billion in agricultural products each year. Over the next few weeks, we’ll highlight some local growers and food manufacturers finding success on the global stage.

Paul Smith of Cool Springs Nursery in Banner Elk sees potential in Latin America.

Spring is in the air, and for many North Carolinians that means Christmas is just a distant thought. However, for N.C. Christmas tree growers like Paul Smith, Christmas could be starting sooner if new international markets open up in Latin America.

Smith and his brother, Mark, have been growing Christmas trees for more than 30 years. What started out as a 2-acre farm has grown into more than 600 acres. The brothers currently ship Fraser firs nationally and export them to Latin America and the Caribbean from Cool Springs Nursery in Banner Elk. In the face of increased competition from the artificial Christmas tree market, Paul found expanding markets for premium N.C. Christmas trees in countries untouched by U.S. Christmas tree exports.

Robert Hosford, NCDA&CS international trade specialist, has been working with Smith to expand those opportunities in new markets, particularly Brazil.

“Brazil is a huge market,” said Hosford. “Our growers could see up to a 30 percent increase in sales if we can open it up.”

Part of the reason for selling to Latin America is the length of the Christmas season there. For many Latin American countries, the Christmas season begins in the middle of November and lasts through the middle of January. By comparison, the U.S. market traditionally runs from Thanksgiving through Christmas. In order to meet the potential demand, N.C. Christmas tree growers could start shipping trees as early as October.

Hosford said that extra month would be an economic boost for local economies across the state. “Another month of harvesting is another month of business for the gas stations, the restaurants and all the other local businesses in town,” said Hosford.

One of the greatest hurdles for exporting Christmas trees and other agricultural products is receiving phytosanitary certification. A phytosanitary certificate outlines the entry requirements set forth by a foreign government for the importation of certain products. Each country has a list of phytosanitary requirements, and each set of requirements varies greatly from country to country. NCDA&CS plant protection specialists can help companies understand those requirements and provide phytosanitary certificates to exporters.

There are no specific requirements for U.S. Christmas trees in Brazil right now, Hosford said. Until those are established, N.C. growers like Paul Smith will be unable to export to Brazil. The department’s international marketing staff is working with Southern United States Trade Association, USDA and foreign governments to create mutually acceptable terms to open up those markets for exports.

In the meantime, Paul Smith will continue planning for next Christmas, which is a short 238 days away.

We’ll have another success story from the International Marketing office in a couple of weeks. In the meantime, connect with the office on LinkedIn.