Right-wing media figures are accusing the Obama administration of seeking to impose a tax on Christmas trees; but the Christmas tree industry has been working since 2008 -- before President Obama was elected -- to partner with the Department of Agriculture and establish a marketing campaign funded by tree growers in order to promote the sale of fresh Christmas trees.
On November 8, the Federal Register published a rule establishing a program within the U.S. Department of Agriculture "to strengthen the position of fresh cut Christmas trees in the marketplace and maintain and expand markets for Christmas trees within the United States":
USDA received a proposal for a national research and promotion program for Christmas trees from the Christmas Tree Checkoff Task Force (Task Force). The program will be financed by an assessment on Christmas trees domestic producers and importers and would be administered by a board of industry members selected by the Secretary of Agriculture (Secretary). The initial assessment rate will be $0.15 per Christmas tree domestically produced or imported into the United States and could be increased up to $0.20 per Christmas tree. The purpose of the program will be to strengthen the position of fresh cut Christmas trees in the marketplace and maintain and expand markets for Christmas trees within the United States.
The Task Force proposed that a referendum be held among domestic producers and importers three years after the first assessments begin to determine whether they favor continuation of the program.
Gateway Pundit blogger Jim Hoft said the "Christmas Tree Tax" illustrated that "Barack Obama hates Christians."
Far from a tax initiated by the Obama administration, the proposal to create an assessment on tree growers to fund a research and promotion program through the USDA was begun by the industry during the Bush administration.
In February 2008, faced with declining sales, members of the National Christmas Tree Association created a task force to consider the merits of a checkoff program, which would allow the USDA to collect a fee from growers in order to fund research into marketing Christmas trees. NCTA officials explained:
While the fake tree industry is investing dollars to vigorously promote their product, the Real Tree industry is pulling back and devoting fewer funds to public relations and marketing. More than 1,000 people donated more than $900,000 for 2004 promotion and marketing programs. By 2007, donations to the market expansion activities had dropped to about $400,000. The erosion of funding resulted in fewer projects aimed at positively impacting consumer attitudes about Real Trees limiting the ability of the industry to affect the sales of Real Trees in the marketplace.
Given this continued erosion of the market share of farm-grown Christmas Trees, an industry task force is being formed to study the possibility of a federal marketing order that could establish a nationwide checkoff designed to support expanded promotion, marketing and research projects.
The NCTA Board of Directors supports the industry task force study of a federal marketing order.
Even if the industry decides to pursue a nationwide checkoff, it takes at least a year for USDA to follow its "rule making procedures." Thus, it is highly unlikely that a checkoff could start before 2010. In the interim, NCTA will engage in an aggressive promotion and protection program as funds allow.
The NCTA board urges members and non-members to be involved in the discussion and will schedule a town hall discussion at the 2008 national convention at which time the task force will give a report.
In April 2008, NCTA officials announced the formation of a task force to continue studying the merits of a checkoff program. As explained in the Fall 2008 edition of Christmas Trees, a leading Christmas tree magazine, fee levels are established by industry -- not government -- and commodity growers frequently partner with the USDA for marketing and research checkoffs:
Examples of other agricultural commodity Checkoffs include the egg, beef, pork, mushroom, milk, and honey, etc. industries. We're all familiar with the Dairy industry's ad campaigns; "Milk Does a Body Good" and "Got Milk." "Pork: the Other White Meat," "Beef: It's What's for Dinner" and "The Incredible Edible Egg" are recognizable slogans developed and funded by Checkoff programs. These four 'big guns' collect between $45 and $91.2 million in assessments annually.
Funding for promotions and research comes from within each industry. Fees could be assessed for example, in the Christmas tree industry, on a percentage of the selling price, per cut tree or per seedling basis. The amount of the assessment, who would participate, how the fees would be collected and how utilized, would be determined by the industry taskforce with the input of growers and attendees at the National Convention. Fresh imports (mainly from Canada) would be assessed at a comparable rate. As in other agricultural industries there would be exemptions for smaller growers. If the assessment is made on a cut tree basis, 4,000 trees has been discussed as a minimum. A percentage of the amount collected could go to state associations in proportion to the amount paid from within that state. The state association could utilize the funds for promotion and research abiding by the same rules as the national Checkoff organization. Hugh anticipates that Christmas tree assessments would be comparable to the amount raised by the blueberry industry, which is $2 million.