Feature:Canada tree growers want fast pass

By DAN BOYD  |  Nov. 8, 2001 at 9:24 PM
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HAILFAX, Nova Scotia, Nov. 8 (UPI) -- Nova Scotia's Christmas tree growers who ship 1.7 million of their balsam fir trees to U.S. markets annually want to see their trees fly through the Candian-U.S. boarder as fast as Santa on his sleigh.

The tree growers, who are getting ready to start harvest next week, are asking the provincial legislature to back their plea for fast border passage.

At the moment Canada and the United States are embroiled in a controversy over softwood. The United States has tacked an import duty on Canadian softwood, saying government supports give Canadian lumber unfair advantage.

Christmas tree growers say that has nothing to do with them. But they feeling threatened as a result of the Sept. 11 terrorist bombings and the resulting delays their loads could face this year because of heightened security.

Balsam fir trees are grown mostly in the cold forests of Nova Scotia. It has been described as the only tree with the true scent of Christmas.

The trees are exported to the United States in refrigerated containers with many of them shipped in closed vans. Time is of the essence to Nova Scotia's growers because the majority of orders are custom cut, graded, baled and loaded into containers parked right by the forest so they can be shipped without delay to the buyer.

The Christmas tree shipping season is very compressed. The trees will begin being harvested and shipped to the United States next week and the shipping will last right up until Dec. 24.

After harvest, proper tree storage is crucial for all varieties. Premature needle drop, normally caused by loss of moisture, is the most frequent complaint about a real tree. If delays are encountered at border crossings, they rapidly lose value because they are removed from the cold containers for unknown periods of time.

Jim DeWolfe, chairman of the Resources Committee of the Nova Scotia Legislature, is sending a letter to U.S. Ambassador to Canada Paul Cellucci asking, "that fair trading practices continue between Canada, in this case Nova Scotia, and the United States"

DeWolfe said, "The Christmas tree industry in Nova Scotia is far too important to the economy of Nova Scotia to have overzealous border inspectors holding up shipments, and in the process decreasing the value of each load of trees."

Shaun Lacey, president of Nova Scotia's Christmas Tree Council, said, "American border inspectors will do their thing, regardless of the impact it would have on the industry. But, we are hopeful they will show some sensitivity because of the critical timing involved in getting trees to market across the United States."

Lacey said: "Producers have experienced different years of unsettling delays due to one reason or another. Last year was fantastic as trucks loaded with Christmas trees rolled through border points, and we are only hoping for the same result this year."

There are 3,000 Christmas tree growers in Nova Scotia with 30,000 acres under production at the present time. The industry employs 2,500 individuals on a part-time basis annually and 500 people full time.

Besides the 1.7 million trees, value-added products such as approximately 400,000 Christmas wreaths are also shipped to the United States annually from Nova Scotia.

Nova Scotian Christmas tree producers face a variety of competition from at least 33 different Christmas tree associations involved in the growing and production of trees in the United States. The advantage to Nova Scotia growers is they have the balsam fir species that can't be grown elsewhere.

Texas Christmas tree growers, for example, promote species such as Virginia and Afghan pine while Maryland growers with a climate that can grow balsam firs but with different soil conditions promote the sale of species such as Scotch and White pine trees as well as Blue Spruce, Douglas and Frasier fir trees.

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