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Christmas tree farms are a hive of activity

AMELIA COURT HOUSE, VA—If you’re having a hard time choosing your Christmas tree from one of Virginia’s 500 tree farms this season, just stop and listen.

“You come here, walk around, and decide which tree is speaking to you,” said second-generation grower Tim O’Neal on a recent episode of Virginia Farm Bureau’s TV show Real Virginia. He and his wife, Laura, cultivate Scotch and white pines at their choose-and-cut farm in Amelia County.

O'Neal's Christmas Trees and other Virginia Christmas tree farms have been preparing for the holiday rush. According to the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Christmas trees are a significant contributor to Virginia's agricultural economy, with annual sales around $10 million.

“We've got handsaws you can borrow from us to cut the tree if you want that experience yourself, or we'll gladly come cut it for you!” Tim continued.

Then they shake it, net it, and help strap it to your vehicle.

They farm in the “flatlands” of Central Virginia.

“We can't grow firs and spruces quite as well as they can up there in the higher elevations, and so we focus on pines here at our farm,” Laura said.

Tim said Scotch pines have become a desirable option in addition to the most popular species grown in the state.

“They have really taken off in sales,” he said. “I see Scotch pines as somewhat making a comeback in the tree market.”

Scotch pines can be susceptible to fungal disease. To keep their crop healthy, the O’Neals spray fungicide four times a year.

“In the fall we moved toward really concentrating on having the trees ready for the customers with tagging and final shaping, and maybe some basal pruning when the temperature gets cooler,” Laura added.

According to the Virginia Department of Forestry, the commonwealth is the seventh leading U.S. state in terms of total Christmas trees harvested, sixth in total tree acreage in production, and 12th in the number of operations with Christmas tree sales.

New grower Ricky Lapkin realized his Powhatan County property would be an ideal Christmas tree operation. He found resources through the Virginia Christmas Tree Growers Association, visited farms and learned from mentors. He planted his first crop of Norway spruce, Scotch pine, white pine and Canaan fir in April.

Lapkin’s agricultural venture is rooted in happy memories at choose-and-cut farms when his kids were young.

“I remember when we would get out of the car and go running through the trees,” he recalled. “And hearing them say they like ‘this one, and this one!’ And then we’d have to narrow it down. I want to see that joy in other kids and parents.”

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