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Jan 31, 2014 7:17 PM by Cameron Polom, KSBY News

Farm Bill set to impact Christmas tree growers

A once-stalled plan to support Christmas tree growers nationwide could be on its way to winning Congressional approval as part of the new Farm Bill. A provision in the bill adds a 15 cent surcharge to the cost of Christmas trees sold by larger farms. The surcharge would be put toward a nationwide marketing campaign.

The Christmas tree industry has become increasingly competitive with the addition of artificial trees. The extra 15 cents per tree would go toward a fund for a nationwide marketing campaign, similar to what we saw in the dairy industry in the early 90s.

Most of us can remember the 1993 ad: an Alexander Hamilton expert is eating a peanut butter sandwich when he is called by a radio station to answer the $10,000 question, "Who killed Hamilton?" He cannot answer clearly because he does not have enough milk to wash down the sandwich.

Believe it or not, this ad helped save the California milk industry.

Writers of the latest farm bill hope the same thing can happen for the Christmas tree industry - something about which Carl Holloway of the Holloway Christmas Tree Farm has his doubts.

"I think it's a good idea, but it has to be a level playing field. The big box stores don't have to do that. It's only if you're growing trees, it's not trees that come into an area," said Holloway.

He said the competition is not artificial trees, but large box stores who can import trees and sell them at much lower prices. And if he has to pay the 15 cents per tree, so should they.

"They've already got a store, they've already got the footage, they've already got everything built, and all they have to do is bring in another product whereas we have to create a store every year," he said.

Even if the surcharge is enacted by Congress, it is still being described by opponents as a tax on unwilling Christmas tree farmers that would be passed down to their customers.

Yet, like the "Got Milk?" campaign which increased milk consumption in California by nearly 25%, supporters hope that the concept will grow tree purchases.

"If they put it all together and say everybody had to do 15 cents a tree then yeah, I would be all for it," said Holloway.

USDA said big box stores do not have to pay the 15 cents per tree sold - only growers would have to pay that fee. However, everyone who sells trees would benefit from the nationwide marketing.

House lawmakers passed the farm bill Wednesday. It now heads to the Senate, which is expected to give final approval sometime in the next week.

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