Live log exports – I mean, Christmas trees

Wednesday 9 Dec 2020

SMART trees will be ‘a game changer’ for Nova Scotia’s Christmas tree industry - So, here in New Zealand and Australia we think we are pretty clever, growing trees for 20+ years, ripping a few sawcuts in them and loading them onto the ship for Asia. Meanwhile those clever Scots who immigrated to eastern Canada are now exporting “live” trees for serious money! Check it out: Field trials are underway for naturally made in Nova Scotia balsam fir Christmas trees that are SMART (senescence modulated abscission regulating technology). “It’s a game-changer for us,” said Andrew Crouse, president of the Lunenburg County Christmas Tree Producers’ Association. “We’ve had interest from other provinces here in Canada; there’s going to be a lot of interest in these trees when they start getting out in numbers.”

SMART trees were developed at the Atlantic Christmas Tree Research Centre in Truro and are healthier, longer-lasting trees that have been naturally selected to hold their needles for up to three months, making them more attractive to international markets. Crouse said the project was started about 10 years ago. The problem, said Crouse, is that although balsam firs have a lovely aroma, they tend to shed their needles.

“The Americans have developed the Fraser fir, a breed of tree that grows in New England that doesn’t lose its needles but has no aroma. It’s like a pine tree. You can beat it and it never gives up its needles. We need a tree that is comparable.”

Working with “the best balsam fir trees that nature had to offer,” the trees were cloned and are now on trial in the ground, said Crouse. “The technology to clone these trees has thrown us a few curveballs,” he said. “The balsam fir is not giving up its secrets like the spruce tree would. It’s a little bit ornery. The true test will be when you take a branch off and let it dry out and shake it.”

The Department of Agriculture provided funding to support the development of the SMART tree through the province’s Building Tomorrow Fund. Nova Scotia Minister of Agriculture Keith Colwell says, “I think it’s going to be a huge game-changer,” he said. “These trees will grow in rural areas and will create jobs. I think there is a great future for the Christmas tree and greens industry in Nova Scotia and Atlantic Canada.”

In the 2016 Census of Agriculture, there were 319 farms in Nova Scotia reporting Christmas trees grown for sale with 6,179 hectares of land in Christmas tree production.

“There’s a lot of work to it,” said Crouse, who has been growing Christmas trees since he was 11. “It can be cold and wet. You got about four weeks to make on what you’ve grown that year that’s ready for sale. Four years ago, you couldn’t sell a two-foot tree. Today that’s rocket gold. If you grow tabletop trees and are good at it you can make some serious money at it.”

“The greens industry is quite big as well, very profitable,” said Crouse. According to the latest data in 2019, Nova Scotia Christmas tree exports to international markets were worth $9,476,878; in 2018, $6,701,304; and 2017, $7,071,894. The United States is by far the largest market, said Colwell.

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