Managing a Christmas Tree Farm
Target Grade Level / Age Range:
6th – 8th grade
Two 45 minutes sessions
Students will understand some of the jobs and roles involved in operating and supporting a Christmas tree farm. Students will apply math concepts to make Christmas tree farm management decisions.
- Copies of worksheet, How Much Does A Christmas Tree Cost?
- Career Cards – one set per group of four or five students, cut apart
- Access to internet for student research and presentation development
Essential Files (maps, charts, pictures, or documents)
- Who Helps a Farmer Grow a Christmas Tree - Career Cards.pdf
- How Much Does a Christmas Tree Cost - Worksheet.docx
- How Much Does a Christmas Tree Cost-Teacher Key.docx
- agritourism - a form of commercial enterprise that links agricultural production and/or processing with tourism in order to attract visitors onto a farm, ranch, or other agricultural business for the purposes of entertaining and/or educating the visitors and generating income for the farm, ranch, or business owner
- dormant – having normal physical functions suspended or slowed down for a period of time
- economy – the wealth and resources of a country or region, especially in terms of the production and consumption of goods and services
- evergreen trees – coniferous trees which retain their foliage year-round
- irrigation – the supply of water to land or crops to help growth
- management – the process of dealing with or controlling things or people
Background – Agricultural Connections
Agriculture is a very important part of the economy in Iowa and the number one industry in the state. One out of every five jobs in Iowa is reliant, in some way, on agriculture. Different types of farming in Iowa can still look much the same in a lot of ways, but they can also have very unique aspects as well, depending on the crop.
Corn and soybeans occupy the majority of Iowa’s land, however, growing and selling specialty crops, like evergreen trees, are also part of Iowa’s economy. It takes an average of eight years for a Christmas tree to mature from a seedling to a consumer-ready size. This means that many Christmas tree farmers need to have an additional source of income when they begin their Christmas tree business.
Decisions need to be made when starting a business. Who will be involved in running the farm? How often will everyone involved meet to evaluate operations? Will you have additional sources of revenue like making wreaths out of greenery? Farmers need to determine what types of trees they will grow and how much of their land they will use for their tree farm. In addition, all plants require nitrogen. Will a Christmas tree farmer apply nitrogen fertilizer (added cost), or will they grow cover crops like clover (added labor) that replenish the needed nitrogen into the soil? Sulfur is also needed to help the Christmas trees stay green.
A Christmas tree farmer will also need to decide what types of trees raise and sell. They’ll need to decide how many trees they will plant and grow based on the number of acres of land available. Farmers will need to know what type of soil they have in order to select trees that grow well in the given climate. These decisions can be made with the help of an agronomist, who is a soil scientist specializing in what plants need to stay healthy.
Interest Approach – Engagement
Ask students, “What is Iowa’s greenest crop?” They might suggest things like grass, clover, hay, corn or even soybeans. With each guess remind them of what happens to plants in Iowa during the fall and winter months. Grass and hay goes dormant and turns brown while corn and soybean plants die, turn brown and then are harvested. Once everyone has had a chance to guess, (if no one has guessed correctly) tell them evergreen trees are considered the “greenest” crop in Iowa, since the needles on a healthy tree will stay green year-round.
- Activity 1: Who are the people?
- Tell students, “Farming, like other industries, requires many people working together to produce a crop and manufacture raw materials into useful products.”
- Ask students, “What types of things do you think a Christmas tree farmer needs to do in order to manage the day-to-day operations of their farm?
- Next ask, “Do you think it is easy or difficult to manage and coordinate the people involved?”
- Tell students, “Trees grow on land and land requires maintenance. Fertilizer is needed to replenish the nutrients that previous trees have depleted. If it is a dry year, the crop might require irrigation therefore someone to run the water lines – turning them on and off and moving them where they need to be. Also, a farm is a business and requires some of the same helpers that a store in a shopping center would require. Now, we are going to learn about the types of jobs that are on a Christmas Tree Farm.”
- NOTE: Before class print out the Career Cards and cut them apart. Separate the class into groups of 4 or 5. Next, pass out the career cards giving a set to each group. Give the students time to match each job title to the card with the correct description. Monitor each group’s progress and provide assistance if needed.
- Remind the students that each of these people have families that the income from the Christmas tree farm helps to support. Discuss why each person would play a role in helping a Christmas tree farmer.
- Activity 2: What is Seasonal Labor Worth?
- Tell the students, “If you have a small Christmas tree farm you can sell to individual buyers. Nearly all Christmas tree sales happen in November and December. While one farmer might be able to manage the farm for the majority of the year, seasonal help is likely needed to manage the high influx of customers that come in during a very short period of time.”
- Next talk about agritourism. Tell students, “Customers might enjoy the agritourism experience of walking outdoors to select and cut down their own trees. This business model will require hiring people to help short term with each of the following jobs.”
- Help customers select a tree
- Load the tree on carts
- Shake out the old needles
- Trim the trunk and drill hole for the tree stand
- Net wrap the tree
- Measure the tree
- Deliver to tree to vehicle
- Take money/make change/process credit card payments
- Keep records of each sale
- Many of these jobs each require physical labor. Since the sale of Christmas trees is seasonal (from mid-November through Christmas) you will need to make sure you have enough laborers to help your customers each year. How do you decide how much you can pay for labor? Being a Christmas tree farm manager requires figuring out how much you can spend for reliable labor, and how much money you need to run your farm, and reinvest in the upcoming year.
- Pass out the worksheet titled “How much does a Christmas Tree Cost?” After the class has had a chance to complete the worksheet ask the following questions:
- Do you think farmers make decisions that short term effects, long term effects or both?
- Is it important for farmers to make good decisions about how they manage their farms?
- What would happen if every farm in Iowa grew the exact same crop?
- Is it important to have a market for the product a farmer products?
- What technology helps a farmer to advertise and then sell their product?
Did you know? (Ag facts)
- Evergreen trees are the greenest crop in Iowa.
- It can take 6 to 8 years for a Christmas tree to grow full size.
- 98% of all Christmas trees are grown on Christmas tree farms while the rest are harvested from forests.
- There are around 100,000 people employed in the United States by the Christmas tree industry.
- Take your classroom outside and map out the amount of land you would need in order to successfully plant 100 Christmas trees. Trees need approximately 5’x5’ distance between trees. Start by having 10 students space themselves out six feet apart. Try to imagine what 10 times that would look like. Discuss how farmers need a lot of land to grow their crops, and that land comes at a cost. Farmers pay rent is land is leased or a mortgage on the land if the land is not owned outright. There are land taxes, as well as purchasing the necessary fertilizers it takes to renew the soil that the crop is depleting from it each year.
- Have your students visit a Christmas tree farm and ask the farmer about the differences between selling trees year to year.
Suggested Companion Resources
- Christmas Tree Farming blog post
- Christmas Tree FarmChat
- Christmas Farm by Mary Lyn Ray
- Christmas Tree Farm by Sandra Jordan
- This publication or project was supported by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Agricultural Marketing Service through grant 21SCBPIA1013 Its contents are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of the USDA.
- How to Start A Christmas Tree Farm Business in 10 Easy Steps (99businessideas.com)
- How Big is an Acre? Explained (thecalculatorsite.com)
Loess Hills Agriculture in the Classroom
Iowa Agriculture Literacy Foundation
Agriculture Literacy Outcomes
- T1.6-8 g. Recognize how climate and natural resources determine the types of crops and livestock that can be grown and raised for consumption
- T2.6-8 c. Identify farm practices for plant protection (e.g., using a pesticide, integrated pest management, cultural practices) and the harvest of safe products for consumers
- T3.6-8 i. Identify sources of agricultural products that provide food, fuel, clothing, shelter, medical, and other non-food products for their community, state, and/or nation
- T5.6-8 d. Explain how prices for agricultural goods are determined
Iowa Core Standards
- Social Studies
- SS.7.18. Explain and evaluate how economic decisions affect the wellbeing of individuals, businesses, and society.
- SS.7.19. Explain how external benefits, costs, supply and demand, and competition influence market prices, wages, and outcomes.
- SS.7.29. Analyze how external factors, such as marketing and advertising techniques, might influence spending decisions. (21st century skills)
- 7.EE.B.3. Solve multi-step real-life and mathematical problems posed with positive and negative rational numbers in any form (whole numbers, fractions, and decimals), using tools strategically. Apply properties of operations to calculate with numbers in any form; convert between forms as appropriate; and assess the reasonableness of answers using mental computation and estimation strategies.
- 7.EE.B.4. Use variables to represent quantities in a real-world or mathematical problem, and construct simple equations and inequalities to solve problems by reasoning about the quantities