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Deck the Halls with Holiday Data

From the smell of fresh pine, to the vibrant colors of poinsettias, the holiday season is the perfect time of year to spotlight America’s horticulture growers through the just released 2014 Census of Horticultural Specialties report. I’ve experienced firsthand how unique and amazing this industry is by working nationwide with producers and stakeholders as USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics (NASS) nursery and floriculture commodity specialist.

For example, did you know farmers can invest more than 8 years growing a Christmas tree for harvest? While there are not many producers dedicated to this work, according to our latest report industry sales grew. In 2014, there were 3,386 Christmas tree producers in the United States. That year there were a total of 20 million cut Christmas trees sold, valued at $367 million in sales. This was a significant increase from the last report in 2009, when only 13 million trees were cut and sold for a total of $250 million.

The Poinsettia, in the Shadow of the Christmas Tree

The poinsettia – academic types may call it by its binomial name, and biologists might refer to its species. But how many of us are guilty of calling it that red flower with the pointy leaves used to decorate during the holidays?

In the world of holiday shrubbery, the poinsettia has always taken a backseat to the Christmas tree. With its lights and ornaments, the tree has become the icon of the holiday in contrast to the poinsettia, which is usually placed in a nearby corner.

Looking Under the Hood of Michigan's Agriculture

The Census of Agriculture is the most complete account of U.S. farms and ranches and the people who operate them. Every Thursday USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service will highlight new Census data and the power of the information to shape the future of American agriculture.

When you think of Michigan, you may think of Detroit and the car industry, however our agriculture industry is also critical to our state’s economy. Agriculture’s economic impact on the Michigan economy recently surpassed the $100 billion mark. Traveling through Michigan, you can easily see just how diverse agriculture in our state truly is. In the latest Census of Agriculture, Michigan farmers reported growing many various types of fruits, vegetable and livestock commodities. In fact Michigan produces more than 300 different commodities.

While the Great Lakes provide our crop growers with an abundance of fertile lands and water, it is our dairy farmers that produce our most valuable commodity. According to the Census, in 2012, Michigan dairy farmers sold more than $1.5 billion worth of milk from their cows. And despite the decrease in the number of such farms, the number of dairy cows in Michigan keeps growing. As of 2012, there were more than 376,000 milk cows on 2,409 of our dairy farms.

O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree, How Do We Count Thee?

Just as millions of Americans venture out this time of year to purchase a fresh cut Christmas tree, I too am busy visiting and talking with Christmas tree growers. However for me, the visits are important outreach opportunities with producers to prepare for the 2014 Census of Horticulture, which we at USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) just mailed this week.

This special study will help us do more than just count Christmas trees. It will look at the entire horticulture sector in the United States and gather a full count of this $14.5 billion industry. The Census of Horticulture will paint a detailed picture of U.S. producers nationwide – those who grow all those cherished holiday trimmings, from fresh cut Christmas trees, to poinsettias, holly and more.

Even Paul Bunyan is Overshadowed by the 2014 U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree - and a Precious 10-year-old Boy

A foggy mist did not deter a crowd of onlookers, politicians and U.S. Forest Service employees as a 10-year-old Maryland boy in a wheelchair enveloped by warm blankets flipped the switch to light the 2014 U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree on the West Front lawn of the nation’s Capital.

C-SPAN recorded the event, including the moment when Speaker of the House John Boehner handed the controls to Aaron Urban, who flipped the switch on the 88-foot white spruce from Minnesota. The ceremony culminated more than a year of work to find, select, harvest and transport the tree found on the Chippewa National Forest. Children from that state made more than 10,000 ornaments – many of them dream catchers in the tradition of the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwa.

Ready, Set, Lights! U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree Delivered, Decorated and Ready to Shine

After a 2,700-mile, 30-stop journey from Minnesota, the 88-foot white spruce tree harvested from the Chippewa National Forest is delivered, set up in Washington, D.C., decorated by Architect of the Capitol employees and ready for the 2014 U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree lighting ceremony at 5 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 2.

Speaker of the House John Boehner will light the tree on the Capitol's West Front, where it will remain lit from dusk until 11 p.m. daily through Jan. 1. The tree is a gift from the American people, hence the moniker “The People’s Tree.” Hundreds of people attend the lighting ceremony.

Shasta-Trinity National Forest Brings Christmas Cheer to Disadvantaged Youth

For some, it can be a bit challenging to get in the holiday spirit in Redding, Calif., because the area typically has warm winter temperatures. But this year, residents were treated to a Dec. 6 snowstorm, which offered the Shasta-Trinity National Forest a wintery-white backdrop for its annual Operation Christmas Tree event.

Working in partnership with Shasta County Youth and Families Foster Care, OneSAFE Place (a women’s refuge), and the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Center, the forest invited 62 local, disadvantaged youth on Dec. 7 to kick off their holiday season on the forest.

Christmas Tree Grower Branches Out

During a time of year more often associated with consumption than conservation, Daniel Logan, owner and operator of Logan Tree Farm near North Plains, Ore., shows that managing and preserving the land yields both profit and holiday cheer.

Raising Christmas trees is a family business for Logan, who can remember pruning and clipping trees as early as six years old. His family has grown Christmas trees in the area since 1883, and he continues the tradition, managing about 35 acres of Christmas trees, including Douglas, Noble, Grand and Nordmann Firs.

A Home for the Holidays

The holidays will be extra special this year for 11 families in Reedley, Calif., who received the keys to their homes during a celebration ceremony December 19. The group spent nearly 10 months building each other's homes through USDA's Mutual Self-Help Housing Loan program.

The rules of the program are simple, though not necessarily easy. Ten- to 12 families are grouped together to pool their efforts. Each family is required to put in a minimum of 40 hours a week working on all the homes and no one moves in until every home is completed. Together, families pour foundations, frame homes, install electrical wiring, hang doors and windows and even lay tile and paint. Their labor – “sweat equity" – acts as a down payment for the home, and USDA Rural Development provides the families with mortgages through the Single Family Housing Direct Loan Program.

Recycling Christmas Trees on National Forests a Seasonal Tradition

For many, purchasing or cutting a Christmas tree is a favorite seasonal tradition. But what do you do with your trees after the festivities end?

Tree recycling after the holidays has become part of community traditions on several Eastern Region national forests. Recycled trees can be used to establish fish habitats, create mulch for future plantings and build soil erosion barriers. Using the trees for these purposes also keeps them from filling up local landfills.

Land managers of several national forests in the area have found that the old Christmas trees can be used to make a cozy home for schools of fish. Fish habitats create ideal spawning grounds to ensure successful reproduction, a place of refuge and shade for the young, and shelter from predators. Also, fish habitats provide a food source – a breeding ground for algae and plankton to attract bait fish and lure larger fish to favorite fishing spots.