Management Plan for Converting Old Use Agricultural Land to an Active Christmas Tree Farm

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This project assesses the conversion of an agricultural farm to a Christmas tree plantation. The current property owners are considering shifting the land use to a choose-andcut Christmas tree plantation. The region is experiencing shrinking agricultural land use due to an aging generation of farmers and a dramatic change in regional land use. The current owners are familiar with traditional agricultural farming; however, the family has never managed a crop like Christmas trees. The landowners are considering an alternative crop as a practical means of generating revenue, preserving the property as farmland, and providing a recreational location for the community. The Elma Farm is ranked among the best airable land in Western New York, placing the farm in the top 10% for production capability in the state’s nearly 7 million acres of farmland. Since the farm’s inception almost 150 years ago, it has been continuously owned and farmed by the same family. The farm is in the town of Elma, which is in Erie County, Western New York State. The farm is uniquely situated outside several large towns and is conveniently less than an hour’s drive from the city of Buffalo (population of 250,000). The farm, established in 1875, covers approximately 63 acres, which includes the original homestead and outbuildings. The purpose of this project is to assess the farm’s viability as a Christmas tree farm and to develop a management plan to transition from current use to a Christmas tree farm that includes agritourism operations. The conversion assessment factors include land use history, geography, site characteristics, tree species, soils, and other characteristics. Research found the site geography, soils, and other characteristics are favorable for growing Canaan fir (Abies balsamea var. phanerolepis), Concolor fir (Abies concolor), Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesi), Fraseir fir (Abies fraseri) and Scotch pine (Pinus sylvestris). A financial analysis suggests the Christmas tree plantation would be economically viable after 6 years and would recoup the initial investment of converting the traditional agriculture operations to a Christmas tree operation within 10 years. Based on these findings, it is recommended the landowners convert the agricultural farm to a multi-crop Christmas tree plantation, dedicating 15 acres to a Christmas tree plantation, 5 acres to a pick-your-own vegetable stand and community tourism, and 30 acres to leased farmland. This recommendation is based on two assumptions external to the analysis: (1) the current owners can finance the initial investment, and (2) can absorb the lack of positive cash flow for the first six years.