“From Start to Finish” in Review
The 2023 summer meeting hosted by Swanson’s Evergreen Nursery and Christmas Big Red Barn in Niagara, Wisconsin was held August 24th -26th. The Swanson’s did a fabulous job executing a seamless convention. The three-day event was informative and entertaining. Our gracious hosts left our bellies full with selections from a wonderful menu and sweet treats each day.
The event began on Thursday with a nail-biting ending to a fun bean bag tournament and delicious homemade pizza by “Pizza Pete”. We thank Peter Swanson and his family for donating the meal. The tournament started with thirteen eager teams. When every team was eliminated except for the final two, tension built as the Hansen team and Hann team tried to get the coveted 21 points. They were canceling out each other’s points so often that the crowd dwindled and the sun set before the winner was finally determined- that being Dan and Heidi Hansen, with second place going to Greg and Therese Hann.
Friday was a fun-filled day with knowledgeable speakers, time to talk with friends, and time to shop at the vendor tables. We want to acknowledge and thank the following sponsors for their financial commitment to our success: The Kirk Company, Mitchell Metal Products, North Countree Christmas, Inc., Northern Family Farms, Northwoods Evergreen & Wire Co., Peak Seasons, Helena Agri-Enterprises LLC, Needlefast Evergreens Inc., Rolling Hills, Cooks’ Woods, Mickelson’s Tree Farm, T H Agri-Chemicals.
DATCP gave an update which included the Elongate Hemlock Scale compliance agreement. They did a great job explaining how quarantines and compliance agreements are huge positives for our local industry and furthermore the importance of keeping Wisconsin free of Elongate Hemlock Scale. We learned how this pest can not only negatively impact our product but also the ramifications this pest could have on our ability to ship into other states in the future. Please contact DATCP with any questions and make sure to get your compliance agreement signed. If you import boughs, cut Christmas trees, or seedlings from an area infested with EHS, contact Meg Sanders at DATCP to sign a compliance agreement. Meg can be reached by email, MeganT.Sanders@Wisconsin.gov or phone, 715-891-8158.
Marsha Gray with the Real Christmas Tree Board provided several updates. The RCTB will be presenting updates on research projects being funded through a series of quarterly webinars. The webinars will be hosted by Michigan State University and will feature the researchers engaged in the projects. She also announced the upcoming addition of an online reporting and payment system for producers who would prefer to do their annual reporting online versus through snail mail. Gray reviewed a summary document of some changes that the RCTB board is recommending for our Order (the law that establishes the program). Growers were encouraged to offer comments or feedback.
Jim Rockis presented an overview on seed genetics with his presentation titled Genetics 101 and 102. He explained the process of seed selection and consistency in the collection. We learned about the origins of Canaan and other fir varieties. Jim discussed his entry into the field and the importance of continuing the work in understanding and developing good seed sources through the process of crossing desirable genetic traits. The group was able to see his work at the seed orchard on Swanson’s property on Saturday’s tour. The Rockis and the Swanson families have been working together on the seed orchard in Wisconsin for the past several years. The grafting process was explained as well as the overall process from grafting to cone collection.
The USDA Wildlife Service representatives presented how Christmas tree growers can qualify for permanent fencing to stop or lessen deer damage. The USDA Wildlife Service works with farmers who experience animal damage with abatement options and damage claims. We learned how this program can be utilized by Christmas tree growers, specifically with deer damage. Whether it’s by getting deer shooting permits, temporary fencing, damaged crop claims, or permanent fencing, Jeremy Irish and Andrew Marzec explained how their programs are designed to help farmers who are experiencing damage from various species of wildlife. If you are experiencing uncontrolled damage, contact the USDA Wildlife Service to discuss solutions for your issue.
Natural Resource Conservation Services (NRCS) presented information on proper irrigation management. Each county has a NRCS representative. Grants are available with cost share for equipment needed to implement irrigation systems. You must prove your current methods are inefficient in order to qualify, along with other requirements your county rep can further explain. A Christmas tree farmer may not be the typical “client” for these services and grants; however, we do qualify because trees are considered cropland in this program. Swanson’s utilized this program to install a new and highly efficient irrigation system for their nursery operation. This system was designed by Robert’s Irrigation in Plover, WI. The equipment was partially paid for with the NRCS grant. Swanson’s were responsible for installation. The monitoring system is from a company out of California, which monitors weather, tracks rainfall absorption, monitors overall soil moisture, and it can even alert via cellular device when the system should be turned on/off, in fact, the sprinklers can be controlled remotely by cellular device, which Joey Swanson demonstrated during the tour.
Scott Reuss, an educator for UW-Extension covered weed control in Christmas trees. He presented live samples of various weeds that can impact Christmas tree fields. Reuss discussed weed identification and weed control techniques which included non-chemical and chemical options. Cover crops, mowing, and mulching were discussed as well as the differences between preemergent and postemergence herbicides and which herbicides work best based on the different varieties of weeds and the growing cycle of said weeds. Herbicide resistance was also discussed.
The Swanson’s showcased their diverse operation with a nursery tour, seed orchard tour, wholesale field and pumpkin patch tour, kissing ball and bow making demonstrations, Christmas tree field demonstrations which highlighted Jutek machinery, and further Q/As with Scott Reuss. And last, but certainly not least…the agritainment tours highlighted numerous shops, barns, activities, a corn maze, a game zone, wagon rides, and other exciting attractions.
In closing, the 2023 summer meeting was filled with loads of fun and very useful information for any type of Christmas tree grower. Thank you to all the wonderful vendors who attended to supply us with all the products we need to make our businesses thrive. Thank you very much to Pete, Brenda, and Joey Swanson for all their time, effort, and amazing hospitality.
By Samantha Reimer, North Contree Christmas