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Immigration Restrictions Affect Christmas Tree Growers, Workers


Friday, December 7, 2018   

ELKTON, Md. – Christmas trees will be available this holiday season, although growers say they've had a tougher time getting Balsam, Frasier and other fir-tree varieties out for purchase – and one reason is the U.S. immigration crackdown.

President Donald Trump's effort to restrict legal and illegal immigration at the nation's borders has meant fewer migrant workers filling tree farms with the seasonal labor they need. Gary Thomas, who is president of the Maryland Christmas Tree Association, says the lack of workers has an impact on tree availability nationally, and he expects to see shortages in some parts of the country.

"I've talked to farmers in North Carolina, as well as out in the Midwest, as well as on the West, Pacific Northwest,” says Thomas, “that we don't have enough help."

Thomas said he's seen some of the largest Christmas-tree-growing states along the East coast, such as North Carolina and Pennsylvania, suffer the most from the immigrant restrictions. Some farms that used to employ 25 workers are now trying to get by with about ten.

Another issue is smaller numbers of trees on the market. Since Christmas trees take eight to 10 years to mature, this year's harvest was planted during the Great Recession, which hit the industry hard. But Thomas says the lack of workers to harvest them has had the biggest impact.

He predicts it will affect more than just trees in the coming year.

"This is hurting farmers across the country,” says Thomas. “And wait until there's no food on the table or in the grocery stores because we don't have people to pick it."

Thomas says negative environmental impacts should keep people from turning to artificial trees, as they eventually end up in landfills and take many years to decompose. He adds for every live tree his industry provides, two or three others are planted in its place.

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