What The Farm Bill Tucked Beneath Northwest Christmas Trees

Jan 30, 2014

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 on the cost of Christmas trees sold by larger farms. The revenue would help market those trees -- a potential boon for growers in Oregon, which leads the country in Christmas tree production.

You’ve likely heard of the dairy industry’s famous "Got Milk?" campaign but you’ve probably never heard an ad that asks, "Got Christmas Trees?"

The U.S. Department of Agriculture first approved the creation of a national Christmas tree promotional board in 2011. But it was blocked after conservative groups including the Heritage Foundation decried the 15-cent surcharge as a new tax. That prompted the agency to put the program on hold in November of that year.

U.S. Rep. Kurt Schrader, D-Ore., represents a Willamette Valley district with many Christmas tree growers. He pushed the Farm Bill provision reviving the promotional board and giving congressional approval for the surcharge.

Schrader said it's critical to help the Northwest's Christmas tree growers promote their holiday-season crop.

“Our region is the number-one Christmas tree producer in the United States,” Schrader said. “So it’s very, very important for the local economy, and jobs, in a very difficult environment.”

Even if the surcharge is enacted by Congress, it is still being decried by opponents, who maintain it's a tax on unwilling Christmas tree farmers that would be passed down to consumers.

Al Wilson runs Al’s Hidden Valley Tree Farm west of Eugene. He says it’s hard enough to make a living by growing and selling Christmas trees without adding to their cost.

“If you can sell enough trees just to break even and try to keep going, you’re very fortunate,” Wilson said. He also expressed a wariness about more governmental interference with his livelihood.

Wilson did acknowledge there could be an upside to the Farm Bill provision.

“There needs to be a cooperative set up, and there needs to be set prices for Christmas tree growers,” he said.

The Farm Bill is expected to be taken up by the Senate and sent to President Obama next week for his signature. It cleared the House Wednesday.

“It was a hard-fought battle that took three, four years – a big chunk of my life and my staff’s life," Schrader said. "It’s not perfect but I don’t know any piece of legislation that ever is.”

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