On Monday, James Robinson tried to talk about the beginning of Christmas tree season over the noise of a tractor engine puffing along in the background.
Robinson, owner of Danville Farms in Kilgore, asked the person he was speaking to to hold on while he shut the engine off.
Danville Farms has been growing and selling Christmas trees for more than 30 years, with this year’s sales kicking off 9 a.m.-5:30 p.m. today. Danville Farms will close on Thanksgiving and then be open again 9 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and again from 1-5:30 pm. on Sunday.
Robinson, who was making final preparations Monday for today’s opening, said he expects to be sold out of trees after this weekend. Tree shoppers should call ahead after that to find out what’s left.
This year will be one of the last five seasons the 79-year-old Robinson will sell trees.
“It’s a lot of work. It’s something you wouldn’t think it, but there’s something to do nearly every day out here,” he said, including pruning the trees a couple of times a year and controlling insects and weeds. “It’s labor intensive for sure. We’ve been in it for 30-something years. I’ve planted my last tree .... Four years from now, we’ll be done.”
That’s because the trees take four years to mature — or five years to get to 10-feet tall. Most customers want a tree that is 7 or 8 feet, but some do want trees that are 9-to-12 feet tall. He also has customers who have ordered 13-foot Fraser firs.
Danville Farms grows Virginia pines and brings in Fraser firs from North Carolina to sell as well. This year’s drought means Robinson lost some of his one-year-old trees, but not that many, he said.
“Overall, I’m pleased. I’m in good shape,” he said, adding he has about 1,400 trees to sell.
Also, recent rains have helped.
Danville Farms offers more than trees. Like other area tree farms, it offers an experience — hayrides, a snack shack and fire pits.
“If you don’t buy anything, that’s fine,” Robinson said. “Just come and browse around.”
The Longview area is home to at least six Christmas tree farms. Nationally, the Real Christmas Tree Board doesn’t see any bumps in the real tree market this year, according to a report from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
“The real Christmas tree industry met demand last year, and it will meet demand this year,” Marsha Gray, executive director of the Real Christmas Tree Board, said in the report. “This is essentially a year without surprises.
“Our annual consumer survey showed that 86% of real Christmas tree buyers said they had no problems finding a place nearby to buy their tree last year. And 87% told us they found the tree they wanted at the first place they looked. We expect this year to be no different. The grower survey tells us demand is healthy. Retailers see steady consumer interest in real Christmas trees, and right now supply is pretty well matched to that interest. The majority — 67% of the wholesalers we talked to — said they expect to sell all the trees they plan to harvest this year. In terms of volume, more than half — 55% — said they expect to sell about the same amount of real Christmas trees as they did last year.”
Inflation, though, has meant higher costs for growers that might mean higher prices for people looking for real trees, the board reported.
That won’t be the case at Plantation Pines Christmas Tree Farm near Lindale.
Heather Reed, who owns the farm with her husband, Burren, said they’ve seen higher costs for supplies, but they’re not raising prices this year. The prices are the same as they were in 2018, she said.
“We’re holding to that as long as we can,” she said.
The couple has owned and operated the farm for six years. Her parents started it about 25 years ago.
The youngest trees on the farm are the ones that suffered the most during this past summer’s drought, but they irrigated the farm, focusing on those trees, during the summer. While they lost more trees than typical, they’re in good shape for the Christmas season, Reed said.
Plantation Pines opens for the season from 1 to 5:30 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day.
“That’s been the tradition since my parents started the farm,” Burren said, adding that their relatives are gracious and schedule their Thanksgiving celebrations around the tree farm’s opening.
The Reeds will be opening a new field for the first time this year, with shorter trees in the 5-to-7-foot range, Reed said. Hayrides, hot cocoa, fresh wreathes, a fire pit, s’mores, yard games and a play area provide additional fun at Plantation Pines.
Black Friday hours are 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., with regular hours of 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Saturdays and 1 to 5:30 p.m. Sundays. Pre-cut trees only are sold 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. Monday to Friday, and no hayrides are offered on weeknights.
“We offer more of a laid back family atmosphere to take some time to focus on the real meaning of Christmas,” Reed said.