The primary function of the association is to provide an opportunity for continuing education and communication for the membership and to promote the products of its members.
In the late seventies the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service was receiving requests for information on Christmas tree production through the county Extension offices, many of which had several people interested in growing Christmas trees. Landowners, at this time, were suffering from double-digit inflation that skyrocketed mortgage payments and living expenses to the point that many were actively looking for supplemental income to offset this burden. Also, private landowners were becoming more protective of their property rights which essentially closed a ready source of native pine and cedar trees to an increasingly urban population without direct ties to the land. At that time Arkansas had less than six farms with Christmas trees growing on them. These pioneering landowners and their contemporaries sensed a market for quality, locally grown, fresh Christmas trees. They (landowners) were basically interested in Virginia pine but the available published information and recommendations dealt primarily with Scotch pine. Some landowners had already tried Scotch pine and, especially those in the southern half of the state, suffered major losses.
The Extension forester worked with Connal Linn, the Conway County agent, and a local grower, Wayne Charton of Plumerville, (about 40 miles west of Little Rock) in planning a field workshop. The workshop was designed for interested agents and growers. It covered the basics of production, beginning with location, location, and location as being the three most important factors. The host, Charton, had approximately 40 acres in Christmas trees at the time, so every aspect and stage of production could be demonstrated, including a very sophisticated pruning machine utilizing a gyro and laser technology that was mounted on a small Ford tractor. Guests marveled at the technological accomplishment of Wayne Charton who, incidentally, also had a patent on a tree planter that he had designed. One-hundred eighty-five potential growers attended the meeting.
After lunch, a business meeting was convened and it evolved into the selection of a steering committee that was charged to draft a set of by-laws for a growers association. The following February, the first indoor growers meeting was held at the C. A. Vines Arkansas 4-H Center. Again, County Extension agents, statewide, alerted landowners to the winter meeting. The attendance was over 200. With the acceptance of the by-laws and the election of the first officers and directors, the Arkansas Christmas Tree Growers Association (ACTGA) was born. Extension incubated the fledging organization for three years and then stepped aside as the leader, assisting in an advisory capacity instead as the new leadership from within the membership accepted the leadership responsibilities.
Aside from sponsoring one or more spring workshops and one fall annual meeting, the ACTGA purchases tree tags, seedlings, and caps with the ACTGA logo for resale at cost to members. The association, currently operating with a $30 annual membership dues and with a volunteer staff, subscribes members to the national publication, Christmas Trees, and publishes a newsletter. Some past activities are: Arkansas State Fair exhibit, joint newspaper ads, stoppage of an illegal sales tax, and the recent debut of the ACTGA web site at www.arktreegrowers.com. As a cost saving measure, the web site is down during the spring and summer months but, come mid- October, look for it when autumn colors begin to show and thoughts start anew for the Christmas season.
The primary goal of the membership is to provide a quality product and a quality experience for the customers who choose to purchase a fresh Arkansas produced Christmas tree, wreath, garland, or related products. Customer loyalty is one of the standards that the membership is best able to judge success in attaining this goal. The classic motto that applies is "If you like our product, tell others. If you dont like our product, tell us so we can do something about it".
A current goal of the association is to work toward educating consumers to recognize the many poorly designed tree stands currently on the market that produce a range of results from sore fingers and outbursts of temper to the worst case scenario of a toppled tree that was fully decorated. Faulty stands provide a miserable experience for first time Christmas tree customers. Choosencut growers in Arkansas sell quality stands that fit trees of all sizes and are easy to use. ACTGA members like to refer to them as "Your last stand!". And, they sure beat Custers last stand!
If you have questions about ACTGA or want to become a member, dont hesitate to contact any member listed on this web site or contact:
James C. Geisler
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