BLOOMINGTON, Ind.—A new study from the Indiana University O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs has found that Indiana Christmas tree farms will likely continue decreasing in numbers and are challenged to locally produce tree varieties that are growing in popularity.
The Indiana Christmas Tree Consumer Survey, led by Associate Professor James Farmer, looked at trends reported by both growers and consumers. Growers, like in other agriculture sectors, appear to be aging out with fewer people replacing them. Consumer demand for real trees appears stable, however, consumers are most interested in short needled trees like firs and spruces, two varieties that are tougher to produce in Indiana.
“Keeping Christmas tree farms current with contemporary consumer culture is critical for attracting tree shoppers, supplying the product they seek, and maximizing the return on investment,” Farmer said. “Over the past 16 years, Indiana has witnessed a dramatic decrease in the number of Christmas tree farms, resulting in consolidation of the industry to fewer and sometimes bigger farms. That limits the options for consumers who want to find a tree from a local farm.”
The data is based on results from a survey of Indiana Christmas tree farms and 1,500 randomly selected Indiana residents.
The results include other noteworthy results, including:
- Nearly 80 percent of Indiana consumers planned to put up a Christmas tree in 2018, with only 11 percent of those being real trees.
- Consumer behavior is relatively stable when it comes to purchases, with 72 percent of respondents sticking with their preferred tree type over the past five years, though nearly 11 percent said that they’ve switched from using a real tree to artificial variety. Seven percent of respondents indicated they switch back and forth from year to year.
- Those purchasing live trees (45 percent) said supporting the local economy was either very important or important in their decision; 32 percent said supporting local farmers was very important or important.
- A majority of respondents (62 percent) believed buying an artificial Christmas tree and using it for multiple years was better for the environment than purchasing a live tree.
- Nearly 85 percent of households using an artificial tree reported keeping theirs for more than four years.
Farmer said the study provides some guidance for Indiana Christmas tree farmers in the years ahead.
“When considering their marketing strategies, growers should tap into the ‘buy local’ and ‘local agriculture’ movements as a way of enticing consumers to their tree farm,” he said. “This survey indicates these are key motivating factors that drive Hoosiers to buy real trees from Indiana farms.”
The full grower and consumer reports are available online, and are part of research, titled “Strengthening Indiana Christmas Tree Farms and Growers: A Framework for the Future,” was funded by U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Agricultural Marketing Service Specialty Crop Block Grant #17-001.
The project team comprises James Farmer, Analena Bruce, Briana Albini, Dana Dull, Lucas Dull, and John Norris.
About the O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University Bloomington
The O’Neill School is a world leader in public and environmental affairs and is the largest school of public administration and public policy in the United States. In the 2020 list of “Best Graduate Public Affairs Programs” by U.S. News and World Report, the school ranks first in the country. Five of its specialty programs are ranked in the top-five listings, including the No. 1 nonprofit management program.