Kerry Fetter of Fetter's Tree Farm

Kerry Fetter of Fetter's Tree Farm in Smethport is trimming Douglas Firs, a popular species for Christmas. This business marked its 40th anniversary this year.

Each holiday season before the decorating begins homeowners find themselves confronted with a choice: celebrate with a fresh, real tree, or one that is artificial.

According to an article from the Penn State Extension, the ready-cut Christmas tree industry started in the mid-nineteenth century with trees cut from the forest. Eventually though, tree farmers began to invest seven to 10 years of hard work in order to plant and harvest trees on plantations.

“The planting of trees in plantations began in the early 20th century and increased greatly after World War II. According to the latest Census of Horticultural Specialties [2009] there are currently about 2,700 Christmas tree operations in the United States,” Senior Extension Associate Lynn Kime stated in the article.

One of the few Christmas tree farms serving the local area is the Fetter Tree Farm on East Main Street in Smethport. The farm is owned by Betty Fetter and her husband, Kerry, who said “the area got decent rainfall during the critical months of June and July of the growing season and the trees for sale this season have done really well because of it.”

The most common trees produced on Christmas tree farms are the Fraser fir, Douglas fir and Colorado blue spruce. Other important varieties, depending on regional preferences, include white pine, balsam fir, Scotch pine, white spruce, noble fir, grand fir and Leyland cypress. Betty  Fetter related that this season the most sought after tree has been the Fraser fir.

Not only does an initial harvest take seven to 10 years to yield, but tree farming requires intensive planning to produce high-quality Christmas trees. Operations must be taken to nurture the crop and protect it from losses due to theft, rodents, drought, mower damage, poor planting stock, herbicide misapplication, poor shearing, vandalism, insects, fire or diseases. Unless these operations are carried out properly, trees are usually of low quality and cannot be sold on the competitive market — that’s if they survive to be sold.

Because of the intensive labor of Christmas tree farming, and the unforeseen losses, not every farm can succeed. This is evident in the influx of customers Fetter’s Tree Farm is experiencing this season, as Andersons of Kane is closed, recounted Kerry Fetter.

Growing and marketing Christmas trees is labor intensive and the work may often need to be done under adverse weather conditions. Much of the physical labor, such as shearing, must be   completed during the warm summer months. Rain and then snow during the marketing season may mean difficult conditions which can deter retail customers from coming to the farm.

Betty Fetter said the reasoning behind their farm’s hours of operation is to cater to customers.

“We are open Monday through Friday from 1 until 5 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. Those hours are critical to our operation because at this time of year it gets dark so early. We want our customers to be able to see what they’re getting when walking the farm and choosing a tree, not to mention no one is allowed in the field after 5 p.m. for safety reasons.”

As Betty Fetter explained, it is not only the influx of shoppers from other parts of the county and healthy trees which are lending to a great season thus far, but also the increase in what seems to becoming a new holiday tradition.

“Although our season begins the day after Thanksgiving, in recent years we have had to open one to two weeks before Thanksgiving due to special requests such as for people who are celebrating Christmas at Thanksgiving due to family time constraints. Of course we can always rely on our customers who reserve trees all through September when the leaves begin to change and in October when the weather is really nice,” Betty Fetter said.

After the holidays when fake-tree owners are packing it in for another year, the National Christmas Tree Association reminds live tree customers that they are biodegradable, which means they  can be easily reused or recycled for mulch and other purposes.

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