Producing Excellence shares compelling stories of American farmers and ranchers, both newcomers to agriculture and producers who span generations.
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Products Raised or Grown: Christmas trees
Size of Operation: 600,000 trees annually
Years in Business: 35
Farm Credit Partner: Northwest Farm Credit Services
Years Working with Farm Credit: 18
Come November, stores across the U.S. start loading in 25 – 30 million Christmas trees for families to bring home and decorate as part of their holiday celebrations. How one tree company’s trees arrive, fresh and fragrant, is a tale of meticulous care and exceptional logistics.
Oregon’s Noble Mountain Tree Farm is one of the largest Christmas tree growers in the highest Christmas tree producing state in the nation. The company manages more than 4.5 million trees on more than 4,000 acres, and harvests 600,000 trees each year that are delivered to 1,000 stores across the continental U.S. and to Hawaii, Alaska and the Pacific Rim.
Noble Mountain’s main sales season starts in June when their customers finish placing their orders, which can range from 250 to more than 100,000 trees for large chains such as Home Depot, Lowe’s and Wal-Mart. Delivery dates are set by mid-October, with deliveries scheduled for up to 1,000 individual stores in just the three days leading up to Thanksgiving. Inventory and harvest management is a complicated process managed with Noble Mountain’s proprietary software. “We need to manage the inventory so the right stuff is in the yard to be delivered at the right time,” says Bob Schaefer, long-time General Manager of Noble Mountain Tree Farm.
To ensure customer satisfaction, Noble Mountain’s trees are helicopter-harvested mere hours before shipment. “The beauty of helicopters – and we developed helicopter harvesting back in 1976 – is that we can bring the trees in so quickly it really makes for a fresh tree for the customer,” says Bob. “We can cut, sling, fly and process 8,000 to 10,000 trees in 24 hours per helicopter.”
As with other farming operations, Noble Mountain’s work isn’t done with the harvest. Each rotation of trees, from planting through harvest, takes 8 – 10 years, so management of the acreage takes long-term planning. Starting in January, the cleared acreage – around 500 acres each year – is tended, grinding stumps of the harvested trees and building the soil back up so it can support a new crop. Seedlings are planted in April, and older trees are cultured, or shaped, throughout the rest of the year.
In July, once the year’s preliminary orders are in, the trees scheduled for harvest are cultured, and in August individual trees are marked in the field for both size and quality grade. Then it’s time for another harvest season that brings this holiday tradition to hundreds of thousands of Christmas celebrations.