What the Christmas tree tax means for produce

12/09/2011 09:51:00 AM
Tom Karst

From the headline, one could surmise that President Obama had backed off an initial decision to sock it to America in the season of giving. 

Ready to drop a new 15-cent per tree tax on Americans like a lump of coal in the Christmas stocking, Obama was thwarted by right-thinking Americans.

The gall of that man, seriously! 

What was Obama planning to fund with the Christmas tree tax? Conservatives could only assume the revenues would fund excesses such as the First Family vacation in Hawaii or the French Riviera.

The reality is different, of course. 

Closer to the truth is this headline from mlive.com: “Michigan Christmas tree growers left hanging as feds pull the plug on long-awaited program to promote real trees.” 

From the story, a perplexed industry leader said:

“Agriculture tends to be conservative as a whole, and vote Republican,” said Marsha Gray, executive director of the Michigan Christmas Tree Association. Many of those who heard it all unfold on radio pod casts from their tractors, she said, “I’m sure growers (are) thinking ‘I can’t believe Rush Limbaugh just threw us under the bus.’”

Yes, a solid majority of U.S. fresh Christmas tree growers wanted a USDA promotion order.

They were trying for several years to set up such a promotion plan to enhance the image and appeal of fresh-cut trees. 

They had been motivated to promote the benefits of real trees, they say, because of declining market share caused by inroads by made-in-China artificial trees.

Market drop

According to data supplied by proponents of the promotion order, the market share for fresh Christmas trees in the U.S. from 1965 to 2008 declined by 6%. In comparison, the market share of artificial trees has increased zoomed up 655% in the same period.

Sales of fresh Christmas trees dropped from 37 million trees in 1991 to just 22 million trees in 2002. A voluntary promotion effort increased demand, but fizzled when funds dried up after about three years.

“The decline in revenue is attributable to the voluntary nature of these programs,” the USDA said.

“Therefore, the proponents have determined that they need a mechanism that would be sustainable over time. They believe that a national Christmas tree research and promotion program would accomplish this goal,” according to the Nov. 8 Federal Register


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Chuck Robinson    
Lenexa, Kan.  |  December, 12, 2011 at 02:43 PM

Wow, that was an artful way of calling the Obama administration spineless when it seems the Heritage Foundation and others deserve a shellacking. This will come to pass once the bluster has quieted down after Chirstmas. In the scheme of things, this isn't the big issue to debate, and it is silly to suggest there is any winning it until the factless attackers let up. Why not call out the the people who ginned up the story and completely misrepresented the facts?

Frank Gasperini    
Virginia  |  December, 13, 2011 at 09:29 AM

Good article Tom. This serves to illistrate that agriculture must hold the feet of BOTH sides, both parties to the fire and never assume that political opinions of one side of the other are infallable, just because of who they are.

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