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‘Christmas Tree Tax’ Inserted In House Ag Committee Farm Bill, Local Fresh Cut Industry: ‘It’s Not a Tax’

By Jesse Wood

June 6, 2013. The Foundry, a conservative policy news blog from The Heritage Foundation, published a story on Tuesday titled, “Obama’s Christmas Tree Tax is Back,” concerning an amendment the House Agriculture Committee applied to its farm bill a few weeks ago.

The amendment, according to The Foundry, includes a 15-cent “tax” on fresh cut Christmas Trees that could eventually rise to 20 cents per tree. 

Fraser Firs near Grandfather Mountain. Photo courtesy of N.C. Christmas Tree Association
Fraser Firs near Grandfather Mountain. Photo courtesy of N.C. Christmas Tree Association

While The Heritage Foundation calls this a tax, the Christmas tree industry contends that it is part of a commodity “checkoff” program designed to promote the industry by funding advertisement campaigns in much the same way that other agricultural industries have done in the past with campaigns such as “Beef, it’s what’s for dinner,” “The Incredible, Edible Egg,” “Pork: The Other White Meat,” and “Got Milk?”

In 2009, the Christmas tree industry requested the checkoff program, and after an extensive public comment period, the U.S. Department of Agriculture approved the program, which derives 15 cents from each tree by producers of more than 500 trees a year.

But “after significant backlash, in large part due to the efforts of The Heritage Foundation, the Obama Administration backed away from imposing this tax,” reported The Foundry.

Now, the Senate and the House must approve the amendment for the commodity program in the 2013 U.S. Farm Bill. According to The Hill, the Senate voted 75-22 on Thursday morning “to end debate on a five-year farm bill, clearing way for passage of the legislation next week” while the House is expected to vote on its farm bill later this month.

When the topic of this program was heating up in November of 2011, the N.C. Christmas Tree Association devoted a webpage to describe the “facts” on the supposed “Christmas tree tax.”

The N.C. Christmas Tree noted that during the comment period in 2009, nearly 70 percent of the growers and nearly 90 percent of the state and multi-state associations posted comments in favor of the commodity program.

“The program is not expected to have any impact on the final price consumers pay for their Christmas tree,” noted the N.C. Christmas Tree Association.

The N.C. Christmas Tree Association went on to mention that growers believe that the artificial tree industry has “spread false information, leading the American public to believe that artificial trees are safer, greener and better for the American economy.”

The commodity program would help the fresh cut tree industry to spread its own message that the opposite in fact is true – that “real trees are safer, greener and better for the American economy.”

North Carolina ranks second in the nation in live Christmas tree production, and Fraser fir Christmas trees are the major cash crop in Watauga County with growers selling approximately 12,000 Fraser firs annually for more than $700,000 with additional proceeds earned from wreaths and garlands, according to the Watauga County Economic Development Commission. Fifteen cents levied on those 12,000 trees adds up to $1,800. 

David Tucker of Dark Mountain Tree Farm and Tucker’s Tree Farm is the president of the Watauga County Christmas Tree Association.

Tucker said the program was voted on by members of the Christmas tree industry and is “not a tax.” He added that it is similar to other commodity programs engaged in by the beef, pork, milk and egg industries.

“All the money goes back into advertisements,” Tucker said. “Hopefully in the long run, [if it passes] it will help us sell more Christmas trees at a better price and compete with the artificial tree industry.”