EIGHT MILLION real Christmas trees are sold every year in the UK and a number of Yorkshire farmers have branched out to grow their own crop over the past three decades.
Next weekend sees the real start of Christmas tree fever as for some having a tree up by December 1 is paramount.
This is all good news for the likes of Neil Wright who knows his non-drop Nordmann Fir from his Norway Spruce and Fraser Fir as he has all three varieties at Warp Farm, Newsholme near Howden where he swaps hats from his cereal crops and livestock farm operation to supplying customers with their seasonal foliage for around a month or so each year.
It is a business that started out of his fascination for growing just a few but that now sees him with 15,000 trees in the ground of the three varieties.
“We’ve planted 4,000 trees this year as we’re now trying to keep pace with future demand. I started with them about 30 years ago and sold a few to friends, then a few more folks came and gradually more and more people kept coming. Our big rise in sales was five years ago. We doubled our sales one year and then doubled that figure the following year.”
Planning for such an increase in demand cannot be done instantly as trees take around eight years to mature, so there’s no guarantee that by the time the newly planted crop is ready Neil’s sales will have increased to match the figure but that’s farming for you and Neil has been in the business long enough to know that if you don’t speculate you don’t stand a chance to accumulate. He also knows that like every other crop they need care and attention.
“We get them when they are three-years-old and at that stage they are only between a foot to 18 inches tall.
“They need a great deal of care and you particularly need to keep on top of weeds as they can smother them out.
“When they’re around four feet high we start shearing them annually just before we start with harvest.”
One of the ways in which the Wrights are hoping to control weeds in future is through his son Matthew’s new flock of pedigree Shropshire sheep.
“We’ve just started with them this year,” says Matthew. “We’ve only 13 at the moment and we’re watching to see how they do as they don’t eat the trees but are known for getting rid of the rubbish all around them. If they do then we won’t have to use chemicals and that will reduce our workload.”
While the Wrights don’t officially open for business until next weekend they’ve already had regulars come to choose their trees while they are still in the ground.
It’s a practice that is becoming more popular year on year and Neil, having been somewhat bewildered by it initially, has come to terms with it now.
“We have people who come to choose their tree in October and we put a label on it for them. They tell us the day they’re coming and we don’t cut it until then. Freshly cut trees are something we take great pride in as most non-farm bought Christmas trees are obviously bought-in already cut so you don’t know how long it has been since they were. With us you can come into the field and pick the tree you want and we’ll then cut it the day you want to pick it up.
“A few years ago we didn’t start getting ready for selling trees until December 1 and if customers turned up before or even around that time we’d say ‘You want it now?’ and they’d say yes.
“The date when people start buying seems to get earlier every year and that’s why we’re opening officially next weekend although I half expect we’ll get a few who want to get in even earlier just to get the best one possible.”
Neil and Matthew make sure they have a good display of trees as soon as they are open as they are well aware not every customer wants to bother going into a field to choose, but they still make a point of their freshness nonetheless.
“We like to cut our trees that are for display just two days prior to displaying them and that means we will probably start cutting on Wednesday this week.
“We have three netting machines and if we have netted trees already in the field we then take the netting off so that customers can see what the tree looks like before netting them once again. Netting a tree is the safest method of transporting it.”
Despite the success of Newsholme Christmas Trees in recent years this hasn’t led the family to thinking that they should set up other businesses that involve the public coming on to their farm.
“We like to keep ourselves to ourselves the rest of the year but we really like to see lots of people coming in these next four weeks. Come and see us.”