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Christmas tree growers fight for sales

Tim Dunne, owner of Woodsedge Christmas Tree Farm in New Jersey, cuts branches off a tree to make decorations.  Marielle Segarra/Marketplace

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Got Milk?

Beef: It’s What’s for Dinner.

The Incredible, Edible Egg.

All of these advertising slogans have something in common: they were created by marketing groups, overseen by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and funded by fees collected from farmers. Now you can add another slogan to the list: “It’s Christmas. Keep it Real.” It comes from the Christmas Tree Promotion Board, founded in 2014, to get people to buy real, live Christmas trees – not the fake, plastic ones taking over the market. The board, which was created upon the request of industry groups, collects 15 cents for every tree farmers sell.

Tim Dunne co-owns Woodsedge Christmas Tree Farm, a 6,000-tree operation in New Jersey, with his wife, Mim, and paid about $75 to the board last year. Dunne is a big fan of the campaign. He plasters stickers with the slogan everywhere: on the cashier’s table, in the window of his barn.

“Anything to help stem this trend towards artificial trees,” he said.

This year, 81 percent of the 100 million households putting up a Christmas tree are going artificial, according to a Nielson poll on behalf of the American Christmas Tree Association.

The Christmas Tree Promotion Board will spend $1.25 million on research and marketing this year, said communications director Marsha Gray. It’s not much, “particularly during the very high-end holiday advertising season,” she said. In contrast, the dairy marketing board that created the famous “Got Milk?” slogan spends about $145 million a year. The beef board, $41 million.

Some Christmas tree farmers think the campaign is a bad idea.

“I don’t like the idea of somebody taxing me and deciding how to spend my money to advertise,” said Andrew Alpaugh, who owns the 60,000-tree Evergreen Valley Christmas Tree Farm in New Jersey and paid about $600 to the promotion board last year. Alpaugh said that with a farm in between New York City and Philadelphia, he’s getting all the business he needs.

But the Christmas Tree Promotion Board says it’s looking to the future, trying to hook young families on real trees. They say it’s like planting seeds.

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