While most people haven’t started thinking about Halloween pumpkins, a group of about 80 people gathered Saturday in north Forsyth to talk Christmas trees.
But since they were all members of the Georgia Christmas Tree Growers Association, thinking about the evergreens is something they do year round.
The Bottoms Christmas Tree Farm, owned by Dennis and Sandra Bottoms, was the site of the annual meeting of the organization, which includes about 100 member farms throughout Georgia, as well as some from neighboring states.
Organization president Greg Smith, who owns a tree farm near Athens, said the annual meeting is beneficial for all members.
“We gather once a year so that we can talk to one another about problems we’ve incurred and things we do on our individual farms, specifically so we can pass our ideas along to one another so we can all produce a better Christmas tree for our customers,” he said.
Smith said the event, which is held at a different member farm each year, always features a keynote speaker, site tours and vendors with specialized products.
“Every business has its own specific items of need,” he said. “These companies … they’re from out of state generally and they go to all the meetings around the nation to help bring up specific items of need that our industry uses.”
This year’s speaker was Cynthia Norton, Georgia’s agritourism manager. Smith said the state has taken more of an interest in helping farmers such as the Christmas tree growers better promote their farms.
“[Agriculture] Commissioner Gary Black, since he came on as commissioner of agriculture, has really been gung-ho about Georgia-grown products,” he said.
Michael Songer was one of the tree growers who attended from a neighboring state.
As president of the Florida Christmas Tree Association, which the Georgia group helped begin in 1982, Songer said it’s interesting to see the differences between the two.
“Sometimes the trees are similar and sometimes they’re a little different,” he said. “Most of our sales [in Florida] are choose and cut, and many of Georgia’s are too, but up in the mountains here in north Georgia they can grow the trees you can have delivered on lots … We can’t put them on lots because they’ll dry out too fast.”
Dennis Bottoms said he and his wife were happy to serve as hosts of the meeting, which in 2012 was held at nearby Kinsey Family Farm.
“It’s always informative and it’s good to meet people who have the same interests,” he said. “It kind of makes you feel good because we got a lot of positive feedback. It made us feel like we were doing a good job and everybody seemed to have a good time.”
According to Bottoms, the trees have done well this year, although the unusually high rainfall during spring and summer did create more work for farmers.
“A big part of growing the trees is keeping the weeds under control and keeping everything mowed and cleaned up around the trees so they have a proper environment to grow in because the weeds fight for nutrients,” he said.
“So the rain makes it a bit harder because it just means a lot more work as far as weeding and mowing.”
In addition, he said there are some diseases that can be more prevalent in rainy seasons, so this year has meant some additional precautions for those problems.
But the rain itself hasn’t harmed the trees, he said. In fact, customers may find even taller and lusher trees than in some years when the season opens around Thanksgiving.
“Overall it’s been a fine year,” Bottoms said. “The trees have done fine. They’ve grown probably a little more than they might have had it not been so wet.”
Online Editor Jim Dean contributed to this report.