Apple orchards, blueberry fields, Christmas tree farms. The agricultural activities that a region is successful at very often become one of the iconic landscape images of that place. I could probably name a crop and you would be able to give me a state or province associated with it: Potatoes, corn, wheat? And yet, though these iconic agricultural landscapes may appear timeless, their continued existence is dependent on market forces. Nova Scotia’s Annapolis Valley is known for its apple orchards, but in the early 20th century, it had actually lost many of its orchards by the 1930s, cut down because they were no longer profitable. Historians have pointed out the irony that the tourism industry was making money off of Annapolis Valley orchards at a time when apple farmers were not.
I mention all this because I came across an article on the CBC today about market pressures currently facing our Christmas tree growers. The industry, according to the report, employees 4,000 people and generates $30 million a year. In my opinion, the Christmas tree industry is an attractive aspect of our agricultural landscape (in short: I love the landscape of a Nova Scotia Christmas tree farm) and serves an additional leisure/tourism function. Nevertheless, it is just as vulnerable to market forces as any other agricultural activity, in this case, vulnerable to the move towards massive bulk purchases of trees by big box stores.
The loss of orchards usually does not mean the loss of productive agriculture, or at least of arable land (unless they get sold off for housing). The loss of Christmas tree farms would be a little different; they are usually located on land unsuitable for food-growing. Maybe they would be left to return to forest were they to become economically unfeasible.
“Competition Fierce in Christmas Tree Market” CBC News Online. Dec 21, 2012 9:22 AM AT
Conrad, Margaret. “Apple Blossom Time in the Annapolis Valley 1880-1957″ Acadiensis Vol. 9, No. 2 SPRING/PRINTEMPS 1980), pp. 14-39.