CORVALLIS, Ore. – Christmas trees have become a little bit greener this season with a new sustainability program that the Oregon State University Extension Service helped develop.
Trees from certified farms have met standards for protecting land, water, wildlife and the people who work on the farm. The trees bear a tag identifying their origin as a Socially and Environmentally Responsible Farm (SERF).
"A SERF-certified tree assures you that this real tree is grown using the best and safest methods known," said Chal Landgren, a Christmas tree specialist with OSU Extension who helped create the program.
To be certified, a farm must develop a plan for all it operations addressing five areas of social and environmental health: biodiversity, soil and water resources, integrated pest management, worker health and safety, and consumer and community relations.
OSU Extension provides training and support to growers in developing their sustainability plans. The Oregon Department of Agriculture conducts independent inspections of the farm, and the Pacific Northwest Christmas Tree Growers Association provides the final certification approval.
This is the first year that trees are available with this certification, Landgren said. Five farms are now SERF-certified in Oregon, and Landgren expects several more to come on board in the coming year.
Christmas trees are big business in Oregon, the nation's leading producer of holiday trees. The state's growers sold 6.4 million trees in 2010, grossing $91 million, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service. About 1,600 operations cultivated 57,000 acres in Oregon last year and employed nearly 8,000 full-time and seasonal workers. The trees are shipped around the world.
Grown on sustainable farms, trees are cultivated just like other crops, said Mike Bondi, an OSU Extension forester and the director of the university's North Willamette Research and Experiment Center in Aurora. Growers plant one or more to replace every tree they harvest.
"People can feel good about purchasing real trees because they help reduce carbon emissions by absorbing carbon dioxide and producing oxygen," Bondi said. "And real trees can be 100 percent recycled and turned into mulch or compost, so no waste goes into landfills."
The new certification program requires that Christmas tree farms:
• Protect and promote biodiversity. Certified operations must demonstrate that they protect natural features, waterways, fish and wildlife habitat and ensure that workers and equipment minimize harm to biodiversity.
• Use appropriate Integrated Pest Management (IPM). Certified farms must use least toxic methods to control insects, weeds, diseases and other pests, and provide training and evidence of IPM in decisions and actions.
• Create a safe environment for all workers. Certification requires health and safety training for employees and evaluating and reducing risks on the farm.
• Actively engage in long-term conservation of soil and water resources. Certified farms must use practices to prevent soil erosion and mitigate potential negative impact on water quality.
• Actively foster farm stewardship and environmental education in the community and with industry groups to preserve, protect and conserve natural resources.
"SERF certification reinforces the message that a real tree is a responsible choice for the holidays," Landgren said.
Information on the program is at http://www.serfcertified.org.