Noble Fir could be profitable diversification for farmers

Livestock farmer and Christmas tree grower David Phillips now aims to plant some Noble Fir specifically for foliage
Livestock farmer and Christmas tree grower David Phillips now aims to plant some Noble Fir specifically for foliage

A Welsh Christmas tree grower is planning to grow some species specifically for the foliage market after discovering opportunities in the sector.

Arable and sheep farmer David Phillips diversified into growing trees at Clearwell Farm at Michaelston-y-Fedw, near Cardiff, to supply the Christmas market.

He was keen to learn more about how the sector operates in other countries and to improve his knowledge of tree management techniques.

His study, organised by Welsh government's Farming Connect Management Exchange Programme, took him to Ireland and Denmark.

Ireland exports Christmas trees to the UK whilst Denmark is the largest producer and exporter of Christmas trees and foliage in Europe.

David was keen to see methods of production in those countries and to gain a better understanding of the industry.

Specifically, he also wanted to see the management of trees for production of Noble Fir foliage.

As a result of knowledge gained on both visits, he aims to plant some Noble Fir specifically for foliage.

He explained: “I have seen which provenances I prefer and taken advice on which ones are best suited to my climate and soil type.”

The farmer is also considering growing some potted trees directly in the soil, as is common practice in Denmark.

His visit to Ireland made him aware that Noble Fir could be a profitable diversification on some Welsh farms.

“There is a definite lack of Noble Fir for the future in the UK and Ireland, although Nordmann Fir supplies appear to be abundant,” he said.

“Noble Fir is a challenging but rewarding crop choice that must be regularly tended to produce a good return.”

But for farmers supplying the sector there can be issues with labour availability and cost during harvesting in November when demand is at its highest, he discovered; transporting trees to market could be an issue too.

“This added significant costs to the product in Ireland,” he added.

The Danes can grow average quality trees for €11 (£9.45)/tree loaded for sale: “This price needs to be an aim for growers in the UK to ensure they remain competitive.”

There is very little new foliage planting, he found, and this could provide opportunities in Wales.

David’s research not only made him aware of opportunities but reinforced his view that the scale of his enterprise, which mainly retails into the local market, is the correct size for his farm.

He warns that forestry subsidisation should specifically exclude the planting of Christmas tree varieties – if it does not there will be market distortion.