The Christmas Tree Fee Quietly Takes Root – Wall Street Journal (blog)

Associated Press

A federal regulation that took effect this week imposes a 15-cent assessment on every Christmas tree cut and sold in the U.S. or imported into the country.

The reason behind the fee: to fund a national marketing program.

These are trying times for Christmas tree growers. An industry task force on tannenbaums reported that the market share for fresh-cut Christmas trees in the U.S. declined by 6% from 1965 to 2008, while the market share for artificial trees increased by 655% in that same period.

A few years ago, the task force pleaded with the federal government for help, and this week the U.S. Department of Agriculture put a present under its tree: a regulation that creates a marketing program to match the heavy advertising the fake-tree industry does so well.

Included in the regulation, which was first published in 2011 but takes effect now, is the 15-cent assessment to pay for the program. The hold on the regulation was lifted as a result of a provision in the 900-plus-page farm bill, which President Barack Obama signed into law in February.

The USDA received more than 500 comments on the regulation. The Heritage Foundation, for one, urged the agency to withdraw the rule, calling it “an inappropriate use of governmental power in a society based on free markets, limited government, and individual freedom.”

Many supported the rule, including Jack W. Wiseman Jr., a third-generation Christmas tree grower in the mountains of western North Carolina.

“My father and grandfather planted the first trees on the farm in 1959,” he wrote. “The real Christmas tree industry desperately needs this for research and marketing purposes to spread the message about the environmental advantages of a real Christmas tree and to help save our family farms and our farm heritage.

A spokesman for the Agricultural Marketing Service, an agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, said, “Congress required that the research and promotion program for fresh cut Christmas trees move forward in the Agricultural Act of 2014. The Christmas tree industry requested this initiative to fund Christmas tree research and marketing, the program will be funded solely by the industry and the government is not imposing any tax on Christmas trees.”

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