Posted: Thursday, December 20, 2012 12:00 PM
Mateusz Perkowski/Capital Press
Workers bale Christmas trees at Noble Mountain Tree Farm near Salem. Demand for trees appears to be stronger in 2012, though farmers say prices haven't much improved.
Tariff dropped, but required pesticide creates problems
A major market for Northwest Christmas trees is more accessible in 2012 for exporters, but some barriers to entry to Mexico remain.
Last year, the nation eliminated a 20 percent tariff on Christmas trees that had been imposed in 2009 as part of a dispute with the U.S. over trucking.
Demand for Northwest Christmas trees in Mexico has been healthy as a result of the tariff suspension, said Mark Arkills, production manager at Holiday Tree Farms in Corvallis, Ore.
"It was at least as strong, if not stronger" compared to last year, he said.
However, Mexico made other changes last year that haven't helped Christmas tree farmers' export prospects.
The country is requiring growers to use pyrethroid pesticides three to six weeks before harvest and has adopted a "zero tolerance" policy for common insects like the Douglas fir twig weevil.
Farmers must hire inspectors to verify they've complied with the new conditions.
Charlie Grogan, co-owner of Silver Bells Christmas Tree Farm in Silverton, Ore., said it's still "marginally profitable" to ship trees to Mexico despite the restrictions.
"It's something we've got to live with," he said.
As people in Mexico become more affluent, demand for trees rises, he said. "There are a lot more people there who can afford a real tree."
Not everyone believes the added trouble of shipping to Mexico is worth it. Irv Wettlaufer, owner of Timbergrove Farms in Beavercreek, Ore., said he's given up on exporting his trees south of the border due to the added costs involved.
"It's ridiculous what they're having us do," he said.
Aside from the expense, spraying trees with pyrethroid pesticides causes collateral damage to bees and other beneficial insects, Wettlaufer said. "It kills all the good guys."