Willow Pond FarmEditor’s note: I had wanted to visit Willow Pond Farm for years, and I was on my way September 11, 2001 when I got stopped at Midway Airport in Chicago. Unable to continue my journey, my thoughts turned to getting back home instead of traveling on to Sanbornton, New Hampshire. My next opportunity to visit the farm happened six years later when I traveled to Maine for the NCTA summer convention. Joan and Bob Girardin warmly welcomed me to their home and farm. Bob, a former high school and university math teacher, has been writing his “Exotic Update” column for Christmas Trees for many years. Joan was a registered nurse and her specialty was labor and delivery. She later worked in pediatrics.
by Bob Girardin and Catherine Howard
As choose-and-cut growers of Christmas trees, we all take pride in the experiences that we offer our customers so that they will continue to buy our trees. As growers in the 21st century, we must diversify and add to the experience by offering our customers a variety of species to choose from. At our farm we have over 60 species including 16 hybrids. We have 23 acres, and we sold our first trees in 1985. At Willow Pond Farm, we sold 19 different species of Christmas trees during our two tagging weekends in October, 2007. We sell our trees by invitation, and we have a waiting list.
Customers walk by my transplant bed in order to get to the fields. At this time I can point out the different species I am growing and when they will be available for purchase. When the plants leave the transplant bed and go into the field, I put up signs identifying each exotic species You can read more about my trees in my column in every issue of Christmas Trees (see page 42).
Pine Wilt Moving WestIn the Fall 2008 issue of Kansas Canopy, I report that Pine Wilt has reached northwest Kansas. Not only does this affect the Christmas trees growing there, but pine trees have long been a valuable resource to provide beauty to the landscape and to reduce the winds that are common in this area. This group of trees has not had any major insect or disease problems, but this is about to change. >
by Jim Strine, District Forester, Kansas Forest Service
Pine wilt, a disease fatal to introduced pine species, was reported in Kansas in the southeastern county of Cherokee in 1979. The disease, caused by the pine wood nematode, spreads by the feeding and egg laying of the pine sawyer beetle. Since 1979, pine wilt has moved through eastern and central Kansas killing thousands of Austrian, Scotch, and mugo pines. Pine species native to the United States seem to be resistant to this disease, as they have evolved over the years with the nematode and beetle.
Pine wilt was first confirmed in the northwest district in 2006. One link was to pine firewood brought from eastern Kansas that was infected with the pine sawyer beetle. The infected tree was destroyed and no new infections in that county were discovered. The other infections in the district are the result primarily of the westward movement of the disease vectored by the beetle. It is possible that a few of these finds were introductions by man through movement of fire wood or infested nursery stock.
Kansas has formed the Pine Wilt Initiative to provide education and awareness, early detection, and proper disposal of infected trees.
Early detection of a pine wilt infection is critical to minimize its impact. The primary identification is a tree that dies rapidly during the summer through early winter. Samples from suspected trees can be taken and tested for the pine wood nematode. If a tree is tested positive, it should be removed and chipped, burned, or buried as soon as possible. The disease will spread to surrounding trees if no action is taken. Because both the vector and beetle overwinter inside the tree, removal of infected trees in a timely manner eradicates or destroys the infestation. In circumstances where detection and destruction of the tree were applied, control has been achieved.
Maintaining the health of pine trees can help reduce the chances of getting pine wilt. The pine sawyer beetle is attracted to trees that are under stress from drought or other disease problems. When a pine sawyer beetle emerges from a tree infected with the pine wood nematode and feeds on another tree, it can transmit the nematodes. Pine trees should be watered during the summer during dry periods and again in the fall. If we have a mild winter and the soil is not frozen, watering would be benefi cial.
In windbreaks, grass and weed competition should be reduced. If weed barrier was installed, check the base of the tree to make sure the fabric is not girdling the tree. In landscapes, pines can be mulched with wood or bark chips.
Diplodia tip blight, another disease that is causing problems in northwest Kansas, can stress trees making them more susceptible to the pine sawyer beetle. Trees heavily infected with Diplodia tip blight should be removed. Also, people should consider planting other pine species instead of Austrian or Scotch pine. Ponderosa, limber, and southwestern white pine could be good alternatives to Austrian or Scotch pine.
Pine wilt will continue to be a problem in the counties where it is now located and will probably continue to spread westward. I think that we need to admit to ourselves that we will lose pine trees to pine wilt, but do not give up hope. With early detection and proper disposal, we can minimize the effect of pine wilt. Pines can continue to be an important part of our urban tree population and valuable windbreak species.
Korean Fir – What You Need To KnowOver the last few years, growers have shown increasing interest in planting Korean fir. I have a lot of experience with this species and have received a wealth of feedback from growers all over the world. I would like to share this information with you and hope this will help you with your plantings.
What We KnowPrefers acidic soil
Tolerates a wide range of soil types, including heavy soils that will not support Fraser fir.
Do not over fertilize
Not susceptible to winter burn
Good survival under dry conditions
Fibrous root system
Tree digs easily and does very well in a potin-pot growing system
Good rate of growth
Great under stock for grafting
Resistant to twig aphid damage
Shows some resistance to Phytopthora root rot
Susceptible to Armillaria root rot
Breaks bud very late
Early coning on some sites
Requires very little shearing
Timing of shearing is critical for developing a straight leader
Beautiful green foliage, with a flash of white
Foliage makes great greens material
Excellent needle retention
Holds heavy ornaments
Customers love it
Twig AphidTwig aphids can be a real problem when you are growing Balsam and Fraser fir. Larry Downey from Quebec, Canada observed a large number of twig aphids on the foliage of his Korean fir. “The tree was covered with them, but the surprising thing was that there was no damage, and unlike Balsam and Fraser fir in which the needles would curl up, the needles on the Korean fir continued to grow normally.”
This is not the first time that I have heard this about Korean fir. It appears that the rubbery texture of the Korean fir needle is not affected by the twig aphid.
Apical DominanceOne of the biggest difficulties with growing Korean fir is to get the tree to produce a straight leader. I have been growing Korean fir for many years and have grown some up to 18 feet tall. I discovered that if you shear the leader in the spring while the tree is dormant it will produce straight leaders (see photos pg. 45). It makes no difference which bud you pick. I cut the leader based on its length.
Other growers have used this method with similar results and in fact they are now shearing their Fraser fir leaders late in the fall or early spring and producing straight leaders. Thismethod also works well on veitch fir.
The Korean and Veitch hybrids such as Korean x Balsam fir,Korean x Veitch fir, Veitch x Balsam fir do not need any special attention to produce straight leaders.
Bill and Jay Weir of Colebrook, NH have one of the largest wholesale plantings of Korean fir in the Northeast. They are doing an experimental approach to shearing Korean fir. This past year they selected a group of Korean fir with many internodel buds and they did not shear the leader. They chose this method to avoid any top problems and to produce a marketable tree sooner. The results were that this method did produce a straight leader with great growth from the internodel buds. Jay says if the leader has enough internodel buds it can be left very long without cutting the top bud. When you cut the top bud on the Korean fir it will often not have a straight leader the next year. It will also shoot more lamas’ growth. We have found that the Korean grows dense enough to leave leaders longer than Balsam or Fraser fir. One of the photos on page 45 shows a leader that was left 14” long last year and it has shot another straight top and filled in nicely. The other photo shows a leader that was cut to approximately 12” and it does not have a straight top this year. Jay also found that the Korean do better with a little less fertilizer than other species. Not as much lama’s growth and curly out of control tops.
Rate of GrowthJim Nickelson of Needlefast Evergreens in Ludington, MI has been selling Korean fir for cut Christmas trees for about 5 years. His observations are that “they do very well in the sandy loam soils in Michigan. As compared to Fraser fir, they seem to take a year longer to reach Christmas tree height (7 feet). They do break bud late – almost as late as the Fraser firs.
The foliage is fantastic, with a good green color on top and a silver underside of the needle making for a good contrast. You can really pick them out in the fi eld on a windy day when the breezes are making the branches move. We have not had any problems with winter burn or frost damage.
I have tried them twice in his house in a test with 6 other fir varieties and needle retention has been excellent. Demand for transplants in the nursery has been picking up for Koreans, especially the last 2-3 years. We have a number of growers here in Michigan that have made larger plantings and are reporting that their customers really seem to like them - both as a cut Christmas tree and a new landscape tree. We are increasing our plantings to meet what we hope will be increasing interest in Korean firs as a Christmas tree or for landscape trees. Korean fir takes about one year later on my farm than Fraser fir to harvest as a 7 foot tree, which is similar to what Jim has seen, while other growers here in the Northeast have told me they take the same time to reach a 7 foot tree.
FertilizationIt is very important that you do not overfertilize Korean fir as it may produce a very long leader with lama’s growth. Larry Downey of Quebec Canada has observed with Korean fir that during the first three years in the field they need a well balanced fertilizer with an ample supply of nitrogen. The fourth year and subsequent years he states that you should reduce your nitrogen in order to avoid long leaders with some llama’s growth. Finally he states that these recommendations assume that the Korean fir is planted on a well balanced soil with some organic matter.
Here at Willow Pond Farm my soil consists of Paxtom loam with 5% organic matter and because of this I use very little fertilizer on my Korean fir plantings which results in a marketable tree in 7-8 years with very little shearing.
ConclusionsThe increasing interest in growing Korean fir is well founded as growers are looking to diversify their plantings and realize that Korean fir can adapt to many soil conditions and it requires very little effort to produce a beautiful tree.
This tree has so much going for it and it should be considered by growers and landscapers in their future plans. This tree will have a great impact on the Christmas tree and Ornamental industry.
Here in New England many growers including large wholesale Christmas tree farms are increasing their plantings of Korean fir because of its ability to grow under many soil conditions and the ease they have in producing a beautiful tree that can be grown as a Christmas tree or as an ornamental.
FeedbackMike Laine who owns and operates the Northern Minnesota Nursery in Floodwood, Minnesota has informed me that the Minnesota Christmas Tree Grower’s Organization received a grant from the State to study the viability of growing some of the new species that become available. We started out with four different locations around the state. The one location that is still active has a variety of trees still growing. It is located near Duluth so the temperatures are a little moderated by Lake Superior but it still gets down to -20 to -30 F. So they are put to a test of hardiness. Two of the trees that have done the best are the Siberian fir and the Korean fir. The trees are approximately 5 feet high now and are being sheared for Christmas trees. Currently we are looking at when is the best time to shear them to get the best new leaders. Hopefully we will be able enough to keep the trees long enough to maybe do some crossing of the different trees to develop a seed orchard. This spring we will be trying in our trials Faber fir and Ernestii fir. Last year we added a variety of Douglas fir native to western Montana, Veitch fir and Abies nephrolepis (Siberian white fir). From what I have heard these plantings all survived the winter. I think that everyone should realize that these trees will winter burn the first few years but they seem to do better once they get established.
Mike also visited the exotic plantings at Grand Rapids and he was surprised to find 8’ Siberian fir trees there. Mike says after last year’s drought they put on a foot of growth. They put down a tap root so they can handle drought conditions.
The Meyer spruce did as well as the Siberian but they were not as tall. This field has never seen any herbicides or fertilizer.
Send Your Exotic Feedback I would appreciate any feedback that you have about your experiences growing exotic conifers. Exotic Feedback will be a regular feature. You can email me at: or write me at 158 Upper Bay Rd., Sanbornton, NH 03269.
Pine Wilt: A Fatal Disease of Exotic Midwest PinesPines have earned a secure niche in America’s living rooms as Christmas trees, and urban landscape thanks to their diversity, adaptability, and beauty. Over the past 20 years, however, a disease called pine wilt has killed so many Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris) in the Midwest that extension specialists in several states no longer recommend planting this once-popular species.
This article explains how pine wilt is caused, how it spreads, and measures that can be taken to manage the disease.
SYMPTOMS & IMPACTPine wilt typically kills Scots pine within a few weeks to a few months. The needles initially turn grayish green, then tan-colored to brown. Resin flow from the wood also ceases as the tree declines. Needles remain on the dead tree for a year or more. Scattered branches on a tree may be affected initially, but the problem soon spreads to the remaining branches. In other situations, however, the entire tree turns brown all at once.
Other pine species are occasionally killed by pine wilt, and display a similar pattern of symptoms. The disease appears occasionally in Austrian (Pinus nigra), jack (P. banksiana), mugo (P. mugo), and red (P. resinosa) pines, and rarely in white pine (P. strobus). In the Midwest, however, more than 90 percent of the trees killed by pine wilt have been Scots pine. Native pine species are usually not susceptible to pine wilt.
Tree age influences the risk of pine wilt. Almost all cases of the disease have appeared in trees more than 10 years old. Pine wilt has not had a major impact on Christmas tree plantations of Scots pine. However, pine wilt has appeared in Scots pine plantations in which trees older than 10 years have not been harvested, and in abandoned Scots pine plantations. Nevertheless, the primary impact of pine wilt is on Scots pine in landscape plantings and windbreaks.
The center of the pine wilt problem in the United States is in the Midwest. Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, Kentucky, eastern Kansas, and southeastern Nebraska have experienced heavy losses of Scots pine. However, neighboring states, such as Indiana, Ohio, and Minnesota, have reported relatively few cases of pine wilt.
The greatest losses to pine wilt have occurred in Japan. During the 20th century, the disease spread through highly susceptible Japanese black (P thunbergiana) and Japanese red (P. densifl ora) pine forests with devastating impact. Pine wilt has appeared in China within the past 20 years, and in Korea and Taiwan within the last decade.
ATTACKS PINESSeveral organisms are involved in pine wilt. The pinewood nematode, Bursaphelenchus xylophilus, is probably native to the United States. These microscopic-sized (1 mm in length), worm-like animals feed not only on blue-stain fungi (Ceratocystis spp.) that live in the wood of dead and dying pines, but also on the living plant cells surrounding the resin canals, or water-conducting passages, of pines. Nematodes are unable to move very far without help from an insect vector. The life cycle of the pine sawyer beetle (Monochamus spp.), also known as the longhorned beetle because of its very long antennae, is closely intertwined with the life cycle of the pinewood nematode. Female pine sawyer beetles lay their eggs under the bark of dead or dying pines, usually during the summer. The grubs hatch and feed under the bark, then tunnel deep into the wood. The grubs form pupae, and then adult beetles, 3/4 to 1 1/2 inches in length, which emerge from the tree any time from late spring to early fall.
While the sawyer beetle develops within the tree, the nematode also matures. Just after the adult sawyer beetle breaks out of its pupal shell, large numbers of pinewood nematode larvae move into the tracheae (breathing tubes) of the new adult beetle. When the sawyer beetle tunnels to the surface of the bark and flies away, it carries up to tens of thousands of hitchhiking nematodes. Pine sawyer beetles are strong fliers and can travel several miles. To mature and breed, the beetles need to feed on twigs of healthy pine trees. This so-called maturation feeding does little damage to the twigs, but the feeding wounds create points of entry for the pinewood nematode into the healthy tree. The ematodes leave the beetle, probably in response to chemical cues from the injured twig, then enter the twig through the feeding wounds.
If the nematodes enter a resistant pine species, the nematodes soon die. In susceptible pines, though, the nematodes move to the resin canals, then molt to adults, which begin feeding on the living cells lining the resin canals. During warm periods in the summer, pinewood nematodes spread throughout the tree and multiply very rapidly. As they destroy the resin canal cells, the tree’s water-moving system becomes clogged and resin flow slows, then stops. At about this time, wilt symptoms develop and the tree dies.
Dying pines attract not only egg-laying pine sawyer beetles but also bark beetles. Bark beetles are not directly involved in the pine wilt disease cycle, but their activities are indirectly related to nutrition of the nematodes. When the bark beetles bore into dying pines, blue-stain fungi living in the beetles also enter. The blue-stain fungi rapidly colonize the wood of the dying tree, leaving behind a characteristic cobalt-blue discoloration. Pinewood nematodes thrive on a diet of blue-stain fungi, so their numbers multiply even faster.
HOW TO SAMPLE FOR PINEWOOD NEMATODEWhen a pine dies suddenly, pine wilt is a leading suspect. To confirm the presence of pinewood nematode in a dying or dead pine, it’s necessary to extract the nematode from the wood. A wood sample should be taken from the lower trunk or the base of lower limbs. A disk of wood, 1 inch in thickness and 3 to 4 inches across, makes an adequate sample. Alternatively, wood chips (be careful to exclude bark chips) can be collected using a brace and bit. After wood from the suspect tree is submerged in water, the nematodes leave the wood chips and can be examined under a compound microscope. A trained ematologist or diagnostician can identify he pinewood nematode by the distinctively shaped spicules in the posterior end of the male nematode, as well as by other morphological characteristics. Careful microscopic examination is needed to avoid confusing the pinewood nematode with the many harmless species of nematodes that also live in trees. Nematode extraction is usually done in a diagnostic laboratory at a university or private clinic. In Iowa, contact the Plant Disease Clinic, 351 Bessey Hall, Iowa State University, Ames, IA 50011; in Missouri, contact the Plant Diagnostic Laboratory, 42 Agriculture Building, University of Missouri, Columbia, MO 65211; in Kansas, contact the Plant Disease Clinic, Throckmorton Plant Science Complex, Kansas State University, Manhattan, KS 66506; and in Nebraska, contact the Plant and Pest Diagnostic Clinic, 448 Plant Sciences, University of Nebraska, Lincoln, NE 68583-0722.
PINE WILT IN CONTEXTWhy is pine wilt so severe in parts of the Midwest yet rare elsewhere in the United States? The Midwest is prone to periods of drought that place pines under stress. High summer temperatures allow explosive reproduction by the pinewood nematode and add to tree stress. Because native pines were scarce in prairie-dominated areas of the Midwest, Christmas tree plantations and landscaping has relied heavily on nematode-susceptible species such as Scots pine into a hot, stress prone environment turned out to be a recipe for trouble. Pines sometimes die rapidly even when tests fail to reveal pinewood nematode. Environmental stress-drought and extreme heat are often blamed--coupled with injury by bark beetles also can kill a pine, especially Scots pine. Pines that die for reasons unrelated to nematodes often are colonized by nematodes that enter the tree through oviposition wounds made by sawyer beetles. The nematode is probably only one part of a complex of factors that can attack exotic pines in stressful environments.
It is important to autopsy sick pines for pinewood nematode because its presence poses a clear threat: sawyer beetles can carry it to nearby pines, and susceptible species can succumb. Beetle-induced spread from a single pine can develop into an epidemic that destroys entire windbreaks or groves of Scots pine within a few years.
MANAGEMENTDespite intensive research, no highly effective management tactics have emerged against pine wilt. Insecticides and nematicides have so far proved to be impractical or ineffective. The “best management practices” today are largely unchanged from 20 years ago, but they can prevent or slow the spread of the disease if followed proactively.
The starting point is containment of the disease through sanitation. Dead pines can become beetle reservoirs, so they should be cut promptly and burned, buried, or chipped. If you spot dead trees in the late fall, you can wait until early spring to remove them because the beetles will not emerge until the weather warms in the spring. Avoid saving wilt-killed pines as firewood because beetles can continue to emerge from the logs.
Is there a risk of spreading pine wilt in infested wood chips? Yes, but it is minimal. Research in Vermont showed that it is possible to transmit the nematode from fresh chips to a young Scots or white pine seedling, but only if the chips are placed in direct contact with wounds on the sapling. Using a few simple precautions, you can safely mulch susceptible pines with chips from pine wilt-killed trees. First, pile the chips for at least 6 weeks; the heating and drying will kill both nematodes and beetles. Second, avoid piling chips against tree trunks when you mulch, and don’t mix the chips with soil when planting new trees.
If you are recommending Christmas or landscape trees, or considering what to plant on your own property, Scots pine should be avoided in Iowa, Missouri, Illinois, eastern Kansas, southeastern Nebraska, and other parts of the Midwest where pine wilt is a major threat. The same goes for Austrian pine, but primarily because it is extremely susceptible to two fungal diseases Sphaeropsis tip blight (formerly known as Diplodia tip blight) and Dothistroma needle blight. Spruces, fi rs, hemlocks, white pine, northern white cedar (arborvitae), eastern red cedar, and other junipers face little threat from pine wilt.
From Sustainable Urban Landscapes Pine Wilt: A Fatal Disease of Exotic Pines in the Midwest prepared by Mark Gleason, extension plant pathologist, Iowa State University; Marc Linit, professor, University of Missouri; Narjess Zriba, assistant scientist, Iowa State University; Pat Donald, research assistant professor, University of Missouri; Ned Tisserat, extension plant pathologist, Kansas State University; and Loren Giesler, extension plant pathologist, University of Nebraska.
by Mary Gruber
A Checkoff for the Tree Industry?The NCTA is on the cusp of making a major decision influencing the future of the Real Christmas Tree industry. About 400 attendees from the state associations met at the National Convention in Iowa in August to weigh the pros and cons of committing the industry to a Checkoff program. Betty Malone, of Oregon, chairs the task force appointed by the NCTA, responsible for preparing a draft of a Marketing Order. Attendees raised questions, discussed issues, and proposed changes to suit the industry’s needs.
Hugh Whaley, president of Association and Government Business for Osborn and Barr, leads the teams responsible for specialized communications on behalf of producer funded organizations, not for profit associations, and U.S. Government agencies.
Hugh moderated information sessions at MI, OR, PA, and NC summer meetings and at the Convention, to address questions and discuss options available to the Christmas tree industry.
Under the authority of the Commodity Promotion, Research, and Information Act of 1995 the USDA oversees the formation of Checkoff organizations. The purpose of establishing a Checkoff is to promote the agricultural commodity with the intent of expanding markets and increasing demand. Checkoff programs also provide funding for research.
Examples of other agricultural commodity Checkoffs include the egg, beef, pork, mushroom, milk, and honey, etc. industries. We’re all familiar with the Dairy industry’s ad campaigns; “Milk Does a Body Good” and “Got Milk.” “Pork: the Other White Meat,” “Beef: It’s What’s for Dinner” and “The Incredible Edible Egg” are recognizable slogans developed and funded by Checkoff programs. These four ‘big guns’ collect between and .2 million in assessments annually.
Funding for promotions and research comes from within each industry. Fees could be assessed for example, in the Christmas tree industry, on a percentage of the selling price, per cut tree or per seedling basis. The amount of the assessment, who would participate, how the fees would be collected and how utilized, would be determined by the industry taskforce with the input of growers and attendees at the National Convention. Fresh imports (mainly from Canada) would be assessed at a comparable rate. As in other agricultural industries there would be exemptions for smaller growers. If the assessment is made on a cut tree basis, 4,000 trees has been discussed as a minimum. A percentage of the amount collected could go to state associations in proportion to the amount paid from within that state. The state association could utilize the funds for promotion and research abiding by the same rules as the national Checkoff organization. Hugh anticipates that Christmas tree assessments would be comparable to the amount raised by the blueberry industry, which is million.
Dollars utilized for administration can be limited; funds can be designated for promotion and/or research. A taskforce would decide the allotment. There is flexibility built in, to customize the Checkoff program to the industry. But there are definite guidelines. Promotion must be accomplished in a generic way, without focusing on specific producers. Funds cannot be used for lobbying or membership activities. Promotions may not attack competitors. So, for example, pork producers could not advertise the negative aspects of consuming beef. The fake tree industry is important to U.S. retailers. According to a U.S. government census, 3 million worth of fake trees were sold in this country in 2002. Funds collected through a Checkoff organization could not be utilized to negatively depict fake trees. For a more complete list of requirements of a Marketing Order go to: www.checkoffstudy.com.
Critics of Checkoff programs in other industries come from within and without. Some nutritionists feel that the USDA’s oversight of the promotion of food products (meat and dairy) is a conflict of interest considering the USDA’s role in establishing dietary requirements. The major issue within other industries that would impact tree growers is that the assessment is mandatory whether a producer agrees with the concept or promotional message or not. In 2005, the Supreme Court decided on a case involving the beef industry that producers must pay the assessment even if they object to the advertising message.
It should also be noted that only contributors are allowed to vote on issues. So if you are exempt from contributing as a small producer, you would have no voting rights on Checkoff issues. Two major issues that arose in August were the method of collection and whether the industry commits by vote prior to the program being implemented or commits by vote after the plan has been implemented. A delayed acceptance would provide time to evaluate fledgling results. A representative from the Watermelon industry spoke at the Convention and indicated that establishing a Checkoff is not easy, the results are not perfect. But there is flexibility built in to make necessary changes So, there are points to be examined and debated.
Our history of voluntary donations for promotion and research has shown that we are not dependable contributors. The few who do contribute tire of supporting the entire industry. We contribute when there is a perceived need. Sales rise and fall like a low amplitude sine wave, following available advertising dollars. This frustrates state and national leadership who have had to cut programs due to insufficient funds.
Convention attendees voted to continue the investigation into establishing a Checkoff. They set the goal of having a proposal ready for a vote at the Winter Meeting in Key West, Florida in February. If the NCTA votes to establish a Marketing Order (Checkoff), a legal review is necessary prior to submitting it to the Secretary of Agriculture. Then the USDA’s rulemaking process takes about a year. If the industry is not satisfied, if expectations are not met, Checkoff programs can be dismantled. Renewal referenda are initiated no later then 7 years after assessments begin, or at the request of the board, or at the request of 10% or more of eligible voters. To learn more about the status of the decision on the Checkoff you can contact your state Christmas tree association on their website, or visit .
Carbon footprint, sustainability, CSA, going green, these catchwords all offer the industry an edge in promoting and selling our product to the disadvantage of the fake tree industry this season. Industrial pollution in China has been in the news since before the start of the Olympic games. A 3 year study funded by NASA and the National Science Foundation determined that 10-12% of air pollution on the west coast is attributable to Chinese industry, with 6-10% of it carrying over to the east coast of the United States. How many Chinese toys have been recalled due to the presence of lead in their plastics? And what are fake trees made of?. . . PVC. Not only is PVC a questionable material to be decorating your house with it’s also a petroleum product with a huge carbon footprint.
Christmas trees are renewable, biodegradable, carbon sinks. Tree farms maintain open space and provide an opportunity for families to share a farm experience. They are an asset to the community. Take advantage of this momentum in your advertising this year. Let’s educate the public once and for all that Real Trees are for-evergreen because they are renewable.
CSA stands for community supported agriculture. You are most likely familiar with these local farms that provide fresh produce to subscribers. Subscribers buy in at the beginning of the year then receive fresh installments of fruit and vegetables through out the growing season. The subscription is non refundable so it is understood that if the growing season is poor the subscriber shares the loss with the grower. This concept grew out of a desire for fresh local produce, with an awareness of the risks associated with farming. These people want to support local farms. Why not contract with your local CSA to extend their produce package into December with a fresh tree? Subscribers could accept the tree precut or receive a voucher to cut their own at your location.
At the Pennsylvania summer meeting, several good suggestions were made for increasing awareness of the Real Tree industry. Sending fresh trees overseas to our soldiers is a message of support to the troops and puts the industry in the spotlight. Do not be anonymous in your giving. The local media love goodwill stories, especially around the holidays. Would sending a fake tree evoke the same response? doubt it. Real Trees speak to the tradition and nostalgia of family gatherings at Christmas time. Let’s push the point.
A school teacher/Christmas tree grower asked at the PA meeting for a teaching package that could be used as part of an ecology curriculum. This teaching tool had previously been available for teachers, but had been dropped due to lack of funds. We need to develop another way to fund promotional and educational materials.
Keeping the Real Tree industry viable in the face of imported fake trees is the challenge. A National marketing program with increased funding available for industry research is promising. If not through a Checkoff Program, then how?
For comments or to suggest topics for Mary please write to her in care of this magazine:
Wreaths and Greens
by Sue Huffman, Floral Designer
What’s Up With Color?Editor’s Note: Ever since I met Sue Huffman in South Carolina many years ago, I have been after her to be our Christmas Trees Magazine floral designer columnist. To my delight, Sue has finally agreed! As I have traveled around the world, I have found many, many wonderful and creative people who make beautiful wreaths and greenery arrangements. I count Sue among the best. In fact, Sue is so good that this year at the NCTA convention, Sue took first place in both the decorated and in the undecorated wreath divisions! Way to go Sue and we are glad to have you be a part of the Christmas Trees Magazine writing team. We look forward to many, many years of great ideas from Sue. Welcome Sue!
Trends come and go and as Solomom stated in the book of Ecclesiastes “there is nothing new under the sun.” If we believe that, then we will be quick to realize that there are no new colors for the fall of 2008. So where do we get all the new colors from that we see in furniture, clothes, new cars, and about everywhere you look. . All the different colors are a rendition of the original color that we grew up with on the color wheel with all the basic colors that we had in our Crayola box of crayons. The only difference is that the color industry had taken the original color and added another color or hue and made shade of new colors that we all enjoy today. For instance, take green. The original color of green was the color of grass. Today there is many many shades of green such a Celedron, Asparagus Hunter, Kelly, Lime, Moss, Jade to Pine green, and Chartreuse green and we could go on and on. Colors are the same but the difference comes when the hue changes by one or two shades of the same color. This creates a perception that the color is new when indeed it is not.
The influence of color and the choices that are being made from the color industry in my opinion is largely reflected by a desire to get back to nature.
More and more people are becoming concerned and are giving special attention to our environment because of what is happening in our world today. All of a sudden people are beginning to see what has been around us all along. For instance, this new surge of “Go GREEN.” Many so called new colors of green are arriving on the market every day when it was seen in Asparagus, Mosses, pine needles, limes and etc. all the while. They added a nice catchy name to it and we have a “new color.” But in actuality they are everyday things we have had all the time. If you have ever seen a live pheasant you could see all the colors you could ever imagine using from now on into eternity. It is amazing at all the color one of these birds have. And they were here long before the “Go Green” people were. I am knocking them of course but want people to look around and see what we already have available to us.
However, nothing creates more immediate impact than a splash of color on a dark evergreen wreath. In these challenging times, color is one of the best low cost options that we have available to the Christmas tree industry. Color affects every element of our life style, and consumers expect these colors to be reflected in every product and at every price point from a box of crayons to the cars we drive.
Red Is Hot!Classic red is one Christmas color that never goes out of style. But do not look for that red to be the bright red of the color wheel. Last year the new red was a rich shade of red with a black overlay A cast of black color would show when an ornament was held up to the light a certain way. This year it is a much more subdued color of red. It is more like crimson. This year we can expect to see red mixed with colors other than traditional green. The color purple and green is a duo that is very striking. Black and white used with red according to those of us in the floral industry were to be popular last year. Black was shown in a big way on fall fashion runways and it’s making its way into the holiday scene as a complement to red, gold, and white. But not all colors that the experts predict are to be the new color trend of the times will ever be noticed by the evergreen business. Some things just don’t change such and this industry is one that is more traditional. Our people are usually not affected by every whim and facet of the outside world around them. But rather a more traditional people that are satisfied with red and green with a touch of other colors thrown in for interest. Another trendy way to use red is to layer different shades – from bright cherry to rich crimson – for a dramatic monochromatic look.This can be done with your ribbon choices or with accessories that you add to your wreath. A merging of red and blue combined will produce a palette of plum, taupe, and rose. The addition of chocolate brown, pearl, and antique gold adds an interesting combination that’s both appealing and soothing to the eye. No matter what you add to it, red is still the dominant color for the Christmas season. It always has been, and I predict it always will be. The fun of it will be what you add to it to make your special look and feel to make you happy. So have fun with it and see what happens.
Pewter reportedly is to be very popular this year. Pewter is half way between silver and white. Also, consider swapping traditional silver accents for up-to-the minute pewter. It is not shiny like silver but has a glossy glow when laid beside basic white as shown in the wreath to the right.
White, in the foreseeable future, will no longer be the stark white of long ago, but a softer palette of hues from off- white to buttery cream colors.
Jewel Tones Are Very PopularThere is a strong trend to move away from pastels and watered down colors that give mild to mediocre tones of colors. More and more people are choosing richer colors. Jewel tones are gaining in popularity. Colors such as rich tones of burgundy, purples, royal blues, and there has been an explosion of green coming on the scene. Pastels of long ago are out for the foreseeable future. Rich and warm colors will be evident in every aspect of the season especially for ornaments, tree skirts, and so much more.
Green Gets A Fresh New LookGreen is a traditional holiday favorite but this year it gets a modern update. Bright, nature-inspired greens from apple to lime to kiwi are popping up in place of the more traditional deep greens of past Christmases. When teamed up with the new shades of red, these grand colors of green make a dramatic statement while keeping the traditionalist happy using the red and green colors. Natural greens in different textures, such as: Ming fern, cedar, long needled pine, and arborvitae are beautiful with twigs and deep red berries. This combination is comforting and welcoming for the holiday from moss to kiwi, the color family that is currently in high demand is green. With the abundance of greens in Nature, they make great accompaniments to other colors. Greens stretch from the brightest lime for spring and summer to the softer spring moss used to complement most floral dйcor. Even non-traditional and fresh, brighter greens are being used in Christmas dйcor! The color green will continue to be symbolic of ecoconsciousness and will only increase in usage in 2008. Because of the "green movement” the color green will be prolonged - green is good."
Warm earth tones will remain popular. Soft beige, subtle browns, and a demure color of orangey red give a warm homey feeling.
Make a body feel that they are sitting by the fire curled up in a warm blanket reading a good book. Many selections of faux fruit can be used in your wreath making that project this homey feeling.
Gold is still as popular as ever. But it is not always shiny and bing bongy as in years past. It more subdued. Even though it still has the sparkle, the glitz factor is less pronounced this year. Burnished gold is what this new color of gold is called. Gold can be added to almost any other color to add interest and richness. Silver is pretty much the same as always. Typically, silver has been used with blue but this year we see colors of red accentuated with silver, silver with silver, and silver and gold together. With the addition of new products now being made in the color of pewter, this might prove to be an interesting duo of color together to produce a timeless classic as red and gold. Time will tell.
The rustic look has taken the place of “Country.” Metals and their color are increasing in popularity. Bronzes are replacing coppers. Once again, all these color are more subdued than earlier times.
Combinations of colors are uplifting and eye provoking this year. Color that you would not normally expect to see together, now are resting side by side on ornaments, ribbons, and accessories that we can purchase for our shops. Blues, oranges, greens, and pink in varying shades are very prominent.
Christmas ColorsIn addition to the holiday colors of white, red and green, below are other festive and beautiful Christmas color combinations. Most of the people that I have met over the years are traditional people and have strong ideas when it comes to what they add to their wreaths. While most people want red and green there are others out there that require a more modern look. So the tips below are for those folks. Be aware that when fashion tells us that a certain color will be the trend for this year, it usually takes two to three years for it to reach down where we live. Time can change many things as well as what we think of a particular color.
Think pink. Pink is going to be very popular this year. Not traditional pink, but deep shades of it. For a second look see, try combining pinks with red-orange. Shades of violet, sage and deep pink also work well together. Pink is absolutely stunning with shades of lime green.
Red and burgundy create a warm, sophisticated look. For an elegant wreath combine any shade of deep red, burgundy or crimson with shades of gold or bronze.
White, winter wonderland.Accent with pewter or burnished gold, not shiny gold.
Make a bold statement: Bright citrus colors of orange and lime green paired with hot pinks and teal shades. Hints of brown will look good with these colors also.
This year’s trendy holiday colors combine the traditional red with bright lively greens. Instead of a Kelly green, we are seeing bright lime greens combined with rust and a crystal white EX Bells of Ireland, Button Green Pompons and new green roses (Envy is one variety). Yes they are now growing green roses to feed this fetish need for green.
This year is promising to be a colorful year. According to the color designers at the Color Marketing Group, the colors for this coming year will be warmer, clearer and brighter. Reddened oranges will replace the current coppery hues and yellows will gain importance. With the addition of yellow, blues will trend toward the green palate and greens will surge forward in popularity. These color trends reflect the lifestyle realities of the coming year.
The strongest influence in this venue will be the greens, ranging from dark and dusky shades of pine and moss to the vibrancy of bupleurum, basil, or alchimella and to the softened tints and tones of sage, rosemary, and mint. Light woods, sea shells, glistening sand, pristine white candles, crystal clear glass, and a clinical sterility of silver accents enhance the Relaxing Spa experience. With the color blue in 2008, you cannot go wrong. The whole concept of protecting our environment is associated with the preservation of water, and to not present blue in your product line would leave out a certain segment of your consumers. Use it in your products.
So have fun and experiment with colors. But one word of advice to all my wreath maker friends, don’t go hog wild on any one particular color. If at all possible buy enough of one color to make a collage of say four or five wreaths, see how they sell, then go back to the wholesale house and buy some more. Or try several different colors for a check-see of how your customers like your new items and then go from there. You might take notes on what your customers liked and buy more of it for next year. Remember colors go in cycles of about three years. So what one does not like this year, maybe next year they will. So work, wreath, and win with the fruits of your labor.
If you have questions, comments, or areas that you would like for Sue to cover, please write to Sue at
"Underground Gardening" by Earthworms is Spreading One of the Nation’s Most Irritating Weeds""Scientists have discovered that "underground gardening" by earthworms is contributing to the spread of giant ragweed, a plant that causes sneezes and sniffles and is one of the nation’s most irritating weeds.
“Earthworms help ragweed thrive by systematically collecting and burying its seeds in their burrows,” said weed ecologist Dr. Emilie Regnier of Ohio State University. “In fact, we’ve found that more than two-thirds of all giant ragweed seedlings emerge from earthworm burrows.”
Through giant ragweed (Ambrosia trifida) is best known for the prolific blanket of pollen it produces to plague hay fever sufferers, it also takes a costly toll on crops. Throughout the Midwest, the weed is especially a problem in corn and soybeans, causing yield losses of 50% to 75% when left unchecked.
Scientists have long been mystified by the rapid spread of giant ragweed since it produces relatively few seeds. Now research shows the lowly earthworm is one of the culprits.
In a study funded by the USDA’s Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service, Regnier and her fellow scientists examined the impact of earthworms on giant ragweed. The study focused on Lumbricus terrestris worms—commonly known as nightcrawlers.
Until now, nightcrawlers have had a stellar reputation among growers since their burrows promote water filtration and their eating habits help make nutrients more available to crops. The worms feed on plant litter they collect from the soil surface and store inside their narrow, underground homes. As the litter softens and decays, it improves the availability of nutrients in the soil. Now, though, it appears there is also a dark side to the earthworm’s work.
"Our study shows that nightcrawlers are some of nature’s most effective weed farmers.” Regnier said. "They actively forage for weed seeds, pull them into their burrows, and then 'plant' them under up to several inches of soil."
In fact, researchers found that worms collected and buried more than two-thirds of the seeds dispersed by a stand of giant ragweed. Each burrow examined in the study contained an average of 127 ragweed seeds, or 450 seeds per square foot.
While nightcrawlers collect seeds from other plants as well, giant ragweed is definitely on their preferred list.
“We found the worms collect and bury 10 types of seeds in the same size range,” Regnier said. But they have three special favorites-giant ragweed, bur cucumber (Sicyos ngulatus) and sunfl ower (Helianthus annuus).”
Lead researchers on the earthworm project include Regnier, weed ecologist Dr. Kent Harrison, and entomologist Dr. Clive Edwards, all of Ohio State University.
"Research that helps us understand the accumulation of weed seeds in the soil and how weeds are spread is critical to the development of new, effective management strategies," said Lee Van Wychen, policy director, the Weed Science Society of America. "Giant ragweed should be vigorously controlled in fields and gardens in order to minimize further seed production and protect plant growth and crop yields."
Watch for Signs of Sphaeropsis Tip Blight, Dothistroma Needle Blight, and Brown Spot of PinesAlthough pine trees are not native to Kansas, they have been widely planted for Christmas trees, ornamental, and windbreak purposes. Many of the pines, including Scots (Pinus sylvestris), Austrian (P. nigra) and ponderosa (P. ponderosa) are reasonably-well adapted to growing conditions in Kansas. Unfortunately, these pines may be subjected to one or more foliar or shoot diseases that can cause premature defoliation of the needles, shoot and branch dieback, and even death of the tree. Among the most common and serious of these types of diseases are Sphaeropsis (formerly Diplodia) tip blight, dothistroma needle blight, and brown spot. It is very important that the grower accurately identify the disease problem since the types (both cultural and chemical) and timing or control measures differ with each disease. The following descriptions of each disease are intended to aid the grower in identifying the problem and to provide current control recommendations.
by Ned A. Tisserat, Kansas State University
Sphaeropsis Tip BlightPine trees may be seriously damaged or killed by a disease called Sphaeropsis tip blight. Austrian, ponderosa, Scots, and mugo (P. mugo) pines all are susceptible to the disease. In the Midwest, tip blight is most severe on mature (30 years or older) Austrian pines; although the disease can occur on susceptible pines at any age. Tip blight primarily causes the death of new shoot growth in the spring. Repeated infections over a period of several years can result in the death of large branches or even the entire tree. Symptoms of Sphaeropsis tip blight fi rst appear in late May or early June. New, developing shoots (candles) fail to elongate properly and turn yellow or tan. Small droplets of resin often form in the stunted needles. Normally, all infected needles remain attached to the branch. Dead shoots are more common in the lower portion of the tree crown; however, trees which have had repeated infections over several years can have dead shoots and branches throughout the crown. In late summer or fall, small black fruiting structures of the fungus are formed at the base of the stunted, current-season needles. These structures, are easily visible with a 10X hand lens, but may be partially hidden by the sheath-like needle fasicle. The fruiting structures also are formed on the scales of two year-old cones and are much easier to find there than those produced on the needles.
Sphaeropsis tip blight can be confused with winter damage or injury sustained from the pine tip moth. Remember that tip blight results in stunted, yellow to tan shoots in late spring after needle elongation has begun and that black fruiting structures are visible on both needles and cones in the fall and winter. Winter damage normally results in death of shoots before needles emerge in the spring and the injury may be restricted to one side of the tree. Shoots damaged by the tip moth have hollow buds and may have the larvae present inside the shoot.
Cause FUNGUS Sphaeropsis (Diplodia)sapineaThe fungus survives from year-to-year in dead shoots, branches, and pine cones. The small, sporebearing structures (pycnidia) of the fungus are produced both on needles and cones. The spores are dispersed by water and require a high relative humidity for germination and penetration of the host tissue. New shoot growth is very susceptible to infection and thus most infection occurs in the spring when the candles are elongating. Older shoots or larger branches may become infected if these tissues are injured by hail, insects, or other types of mechanical damage.
ControlControl of Sphaeropsis tip blight is aimed at protecting the susceptible expanding shoots from fungal infection in early spring. Tip blight can be controlled with two applications of an appropriate fungicide if the chemical is applied at the right time. The first application should be made approximately the third week in April just as the new buds are elongating. The trees should be sprayed a second time 10-14 days later. The timing of fungicide applications may need to be adjusted slightly depending on host development in the spring. Spraying after the critical period of bud break and elongation will not be effective in controlling tip blight. Thorough coverage of the foliage with the fungicide, especially in the lower two-thirds of the crown, is essential for adequate disease control. A trombone sprayer or a motorized high-pressure sprayer may be required to deliver the fungicide to the tops of very tall trees.
Thiophanate-methyl (Cleary’s 3336, Fungo) and some copper-containing fungicides including Bordeaux mixture and Tenn-Cop 5E are registered for control of tip blight. Bordeaux mixture may be purchased commercially prepackaged or prepared fresh. For fresh Bordeaux (8-8-100 rate), mix 8 pounds copper sulfate in 50 gallons of water and 8 pounds of hydrated lime in 50 gallons of water. Combine the two and mix thoroughly. Strain the mixture to remove insoluble particles before application. For smaller quantities (3 gallons) mix 2 ounces copper sulfate in one gallon water and 2 ounces hydrated lime in one gallon of water. Combine the two and strain the mixture through cheesecloth. Fresh Bordeaux should be applied the same day as it is mixed; the mixture loses effectiveness if left standing in water. Bordeaux mixture must be agitated constantly while spraying to prevent settling of the compound in the spray tank. For other fungicides, follow label instructions.
Removal of dead shoots will improve the appearance of diseased trees, but it will not prevent infection since much of the inoculum is produced on cones that remain attached to the tree. Trees attacked by tip blight should be adequately watered and fertilized.
Dothistroma Needle BlightDothistroma needle blight is a common and serious disease of Austrian and ponderosa pines planted for windbreak and ornamental purposes. Mugo pine also is susceptible to the disease but Scots pine is considered resistant. The disease causes premature dropping of pine needles the year following infection. Because Austrian and ponderosa pines typically retain needles for three or four years, premature loss of the foliage results in a reduced photosynthetic area and a loss of tree vigor. Extensive defoliation over several years may kill the tree.
Symptoms of Dothistroma needle blight are evident first in late summer or early fall. Diseased needles exhibit dark green bands or scattered yellow to tan spots. The spots often enlarge and develop into red bands that encircle the needle. The red bands may be bordered by a light yellow region. The tip of the needle beyond the red band eventually turns brown; the needle base remains green. Infection is most common to one-, two-, or three-year-old needles, but current season needles also may show symptoms. Typically, the disease is most severe in the lower portion of the tree crown.
In late winter or early spring, small black fruiting structures of the disease-causing fungus rupture through dead portions of the needle. The green base of the needle turns brown and dead needles are cast prematurely throughout the spring and summer. Loss of older needles and the production of new shoot growth in the spring gives the branch a tufted appearance.
Symptoms of Dothistroma needle blight may resemble needle scorching or injury caused by chemical sprays. Heavy loss of older, inner needles plus the appearance of small black fruiting structures on needles in th spring are good diagnostic symptoms and signs of Dothistroma needle blight.
CauseThe fungus overwinters in infected needles and produces small, black spore-bearing structures (acervuli) which break through the dead, needle epidermis in late winter or early spring. A 10X hand lens may be helpful in viewing these structures. Spores are dispersed in water droplets or aerosols during periods of rainfall from mid-May through October. Newly developed needles are resistant at first, but become susceptible by midsummer. Older needles are susceptible throughout the growing season.
FUNGUS Dothistroma septospora
ControlSome copper-containing fungicides (including Bordeaux and Tenn-Cop 5E) can be used for control of Dothistroma needle blight. Check under the control measures for Sphaeropsis tip blight for the preparation of fresh Bordeaux mixture. A single fungicide application in early June normally will protect foliage from infection. There is some risk in a single application, since susceptible older needles are not protected in late May. A more complete and dependable control can be obtained with two fungicide applications in mid-May and mid-to late-June. Make sure that all needles are covered thoroughly with the fungicide. It’s a good idea to spray adjacent susceptible pines. In most cases, yearly spraying will not be necessary once the disease is brought under control.
Collection and removal of diseased needles on the ground around individual trees may reduce the severity of infection the following year. Nevertheless, sanitation probably will not eliminate the disease because diseased needles bearing fruiting structures of the fungus sometimes remain attached to the tree. Removal of dead needles i impractical in windbreak plantings.
In areas where Dothistroma needle blight is severe, consider planting another type of tree, such as the resistant Scots pine. Work at the University of Nebraska indicates that there is considerable variation in the susceptibility of Austrian and ponderosa pines to Dothistroma needle blight. Austrian pines from a seed source in the former Yugoslavia are very resistant to the disease, which ponderosa pine seedlings from several seed sources in the Rocky mountain region also have shown a high degree of resistance.
Brown SpotIn the Midwest, brown spot disease primarily is a problem on Scots pine planted in Christmas tree plantations, although ornamental and windbreak trees of this species also may be attached. Ponderosa pine is susceptible to brown spot, but Austrian pine is resistant. Symptoms of brown spot first appear in late August or early September. Affected needles develop yellow to tan, often resin-soaked, spots. Occasionally the spots enlarge and result in a banding effect on the diseased needle. By mid-fall, diseased needles turn brown and begin to fall from the tree. Heaviest infection and defoliation occurs in the lower portion of the tree crown. The symptoms of brown spot may b confused with those of Dothistroma needle blight. Both diseases result in spot formation on the needle and premature defoliation; however, brown spot is most severe on Scots pine while Dothistroma needle blight is a serious problem on Austrian pine. Both diseases occur on ponderosa pine, and laboratory identifi cation may be required to distinguish between the two diseases.
CauseIn the fall, the fungus produces small, black fruiting structures on diseased needles. The dead needles may be cast from the tree in the fall or remain attached through the winter. Spores (conidia) of the fungus are dispersed from the fruiting structures (acervuli) the following spring during rainy periods. The conidia can infect the needles from June through September, although most infection occurs in early June when the new needles are developing.
FUNGUS Mycosphaerella dearnessii
ControlThe needles of susceptible pine trees can be protected from infection by the fungus with the application of one or two fungicide sprays. The first application should be made in the last week of May or early June. A second application may be necessary in 3 to 4 weeks if unusually wet weather prevails. Bordeaux mixture, at a rate of 8-8-100 (8 pounds copper sulfate and 8 pounds hydrated lime in 100 gallons of water) for hydraulic or hand sprayers or a 24-24-100 mixture for mist blowers, chlorothalonil (Bravo, Daconil) and mancozeb are registered for the control of brown spot.
The short-needled French and Spanish varieties of Scots pine are very susceptible to brown spot and should not be planted in areas where the disease has been a problem. The long-needled varieties of Scots pine are more resistant.
by Tom Buck
Are You a Hobby in the Eyes of the IRS?First, I’d like to say how much I enjoyed meeting many of you in Des Moines at the NCTA Summer Meeting. Catherine Howard was kind enough to invite me to join her and her father, Chuck and daughter, Christy in their booth for the Christmas Trees Magazine. The crowds were not what the exhibitors had hoped for, and the food situation in the exhibit hall left much to be desired, but it was a good experience for me, nonetheless. Thanks to all of you who came by to say hello. And thanks to Catherine, Chuck, and Christy for their hospitality.
Many of you are truly in business based upon your activity levels and profitability. BUT, what about the marginal operator who also has a w-2 job or other income-producing activity? (In my part of Iowa there are any number of farmers who need to have a full-time job just to support their farming “habit.” I wouldn’t be surprised if there are some of these folk trying to make a go of it as tree growers.)
If you are a regular reader of this column you’ll recall having me say that "profit motive" is the be-all and end-all when it comes to defending your business deductions against IRS audit. Profit Motive is what differentiates "hobbies" from "for-profit" businesses. The IRS is becoming much more interested in this subject as is indicated by a new pronouncement issued June 28, 2008. It is entitled: "Is Your Hobby a For-Profit Endeavor?"
Why do we care if the IRS decides we are a hobby? Hobbies are only allowed to deduct as much business expense as they have business income. There are NO LOSSES allowed for hobbyists. It is not unusual for a business to operate at a loss for tax purposes for a few years or experience an occasional loss from time to time. We certainly want to be able to take these losses against other income. So it pretty quickly becomes obvious that we DO NOT want to be classified as a hobby by the IRS.
In general, businesses may deduct their “ordinary” and “necessary” expenses of conducting a trade or business OR for the “production of income,” as long as these activities are engaged in for profit. So let’s look at a list of items the IRS considers when determining if a business is engaged in for profit:
1. Does the time and effort put into the activity indicate an intention to make a profit?
2. Do you depend on income from this activity?
3. If there are losses, are they due to circumstances beyond your control or did they occur in the start-up phase of the business?
4. Have you changed your method of operation to improve Profitability (assuming losses?
5. Do you have the knowledge necessary to carry on the activity as a successful business?
6. Have you made a profit in similar activities in the past
7. Does the activity make a profit in some years?
8. Do you expect to make a profit in the future from appreciation of assets used in the activity?
The IRS goes on to say that an activity is “presumed” to be for profit if it actually makes a profit in at least three of the last five tax years. Too often people interpret this to say, conversely, if you DO NOT make a profit for three of the last five years you must be not for-profit, and, therefore, a “hobby.” This is where the misunderstanding arrives about the three-out-of-five rule.
In point of fact, there is no rule that requires a business to make a profit at all – only that the activity be engaged in “for profit.” The US Tax Court overruled the IRS, in 1979, stating that a taxpayer, who had business losses for eleven years running, was allowed to keep his losses. The Court observed that the man had run his business in a business-like fashion. That every year he reworked his approach in an effort to increase his chances of making a profit. That he did what a prudent businessperson would do to make a profit. The fact that he finally did make a profit in the twelfth year didn’t hurt his case, of course. But I suggest to you that if you have been running your business with a TRUE profit motive for eleven years and still not turned a profit that you should probably consider using your time and efforts doing something else.
Remember, while we are wise to use the tax law to our advantage, in the final analysis, making a profit from our activities must be a major long-term goal.
Contact Tom at:
P.O. Box 476
Schaller, IA 51053