by George Looby DVM
Sixty members of the CT Christmas Tree Growers Association met at the Wilbert Snow School in Middletown, CT for their annual meeting this spring. The annual business meeting started the day’s activities, reports were received from the Secretary, Treasurer, Website Manager and Executive Director. President Thomas Rathier delivered a Remembrance Report on eight departed members one of whom was the founding father of the Association and its first president: Philip Hubbell Jones, Jr.
During the business meeting the membership voted on various Constitutional Article Amendments and held election of officers and directors for the upcoming year. Officers elected are: President John Cimochowski, Vice President Thomas Rathier, Secretary Fabienne Audette and Treasurer J. Scott Edwards.
Directors elected by county were: Fairfield County – Louis Bacchiocchi, Hartford County – Diane Jorsey, Litchfield County – Tim Angevine, Middlesex County – Chris Staehly, New Haven County – Joseph Vignola, New London County – Bo Geer, Tolland County – Prescott Lehmann, Windham County – Mark Parker, Director at Large (East) – Pete Merrill, Director at Large (West) – Michelle Cumpstone.
Awards of recognition and gratitude were presented to those individuals who welcomed members to their farms by hosting the twilight and field day meetings held throughout the year. The coveted Merit Award was presented to Dr. Richard S. Cowles for his innumerable and invaluable contributions to the associations’ goal of producing the highest quality Christmas trees. Dr. Cowles is an Entomologist working out of the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station, Valley Laboratory in Windsor.
Following the Business Meeting Dr. Cowles led off with a discussion of soil modifications that may protect evergreens from infection with root rot.
Recently conducted trials have shown that the application of sulfur to soil in qualities sufficient to lower the pH to 4.0 provided strong evidence that soil acidification can protect newly planted trees from losses due to root rots. A series of laboratory experiments investigating multiple possible mechanisms for this effect demonstrated that low pH, by itself, may be sufficient to explain this protection as three different species of Phytophthora previously isolated from CT grown Christmas trees could not grow at a pH of 4. The three species isolated grew to some degree at pH 5 therefore, the desirable effective pH should be in the range of 4 to 5.
Shelly and Peter Cumpstone, owner/operators of Winterberry Farm in Killingworth gave an overview of the trials and tribulations of establishing, managing and growing their Christmas tree farm. Their willingness to share their experiences with fellow growers reflects well on the common bond that growers have.
Jeff Wilson of the insurance firm of Blumenthal and Donahue outlined the reasons and importance of carrying farm insurance. Joe Bonelli of UConn Extension outlined crop protection programs available to Christmas tree growers one of which is the Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program, which covers unique crops such as Christmas trees, which may not be covered by other programs. Joe is a valuable resource who is always ready to share the very latest in programs available to all farmers to protect them from a wide variety of losses that may occur in any given year. Contact Joe at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Following lunch Jim Rockis, an Eastern District Board member of the National Christmas Tree Promotion Board brought a message to the group regarding some of the issues being considered at the national level. One of the obvious concerns of all growers is convincing consumers to purchase real trees rather than artificial ones. Some of these proposals were met with rather strong concerns among our growers.
Tom Rathier (VP) and CT Agricultural Experiment Station Soil Scientist Emeritus, presented an update on climate change and its probable effect on the Christmas tree industry. Evidence of the potential impact on temperature sensitive crops can be seen in the number of degree-days in the period 2005-2008 when 2368 degree-days were recorded at the station. This was in contrast to the period 2010- 2015 when an average of 2616 degree-days were recorded, an increase of 248 degree days which was the equivalent of 7-10 more warm days in the latter period. The potential impact of this trend may be that varieties of trees now grown in southern New England will eventually not do well under changing conditions and new varieties will have to be found to take their place.