Harvest and shipment of holiday trees is underway for the nation's top producer
Oregon, the nation’s top producer of Christmas trees, is already harvesting and shipping those trees to several export markets with good intentions of not sending along insect pests or diseases. One of those key markets is Hawaii, and the Oregon Department of Agriculture is working with its counterpart in that state to reduce any chance that invasive species go along for the ride.
“Hawaii is concerned with things like yellowjackets, which are very common in Oregon, and some of our slugs and snails that can hitch a ride on trees,” says Gary McAninch, manager of ODA’s Nursery and Christmas Tree programs
. “We don’t want to send those pests there either, so we have a vigorous program to inspect those trees.”
Oregon Christmas trees are popular in Hawaii. Last year, about 230 containers were shipped to Hawaii, which means about 138,000 Oregon Christmas trees were sold to that state in 2011. A similar number is expected this year and some of the first shipments are already headed across the Pacific Ocean to Hawaii and other destinations such as the Philippines, Singapore, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Guam.
“Growers have generally done a good job of adhering to the requirements for shipping to Hawaii,” says McAninch. “They clean those trees up to make sure only the tree itself goes to the islands, not any pests or diseases.”
ODA plays an essential role in making the export of Oregon Christmas trees possible. Inspectors check to make sure trees bound for other states and countries are as pest and disease-free as possible. Those inspectors will be facing a whirlwind of export activity in the next few weeks as growers seek an all-important piece of paper known as the phytosanitary certificate.
"The phytosanitary certificate is an Oregon grower's passport to the international marketplace," says Bryan Ostlund, executive director of the Pacific Northwest Christmas Tree Association
. "Without the ODA inspector, there would be no passport."
Inspection takes place in the field before harvest and again just prior to shipment. Inspectors don’t look at every tree, but randomly walk through a representative part of the field looking for potential problems. They also check after growers use a mechanical shaker to rid trees of any pests that might be present right before those trees go into a container. The process has been largely successful in preventing problems. Failure at this end can mean trouble at the export destination and a financial headache for the grower or shipper.
“Depending on what they find in Hawaii, if it is something very serious that they don’t have a treatment for in the islands, those trees will actually be sent back to Oregon at great expense to the grower and exporter,” says McAninch. “If it’s a pest that Hawaii has some experience with and can eliminate over there, they will take care of it there but, again, at the growers’ expense. The least desirable option is having those trees returned to sender.”
Meanwhile, ODA is cooperating with the Hawaii Department of Agriculture on a number of fronts to make the process even more effective, including a study of a hot water treatment that can be used at the receiving end in Hawaii on Oregon trees that may contain slugs, snails, yellowjackets, and other pests.
Over the next week, ODA will also send two of its entomologists to Hawaii, by invitation, to help with the inspection of Oregon Christmas trees.
“We are being asked to provide our particular expertise in dealing with Oregon’s insects and related organisms that might hop a ride on our Christmas trees,” says ODA entomologist Jim LaBonte. “They have expertise in pests common to Hawaii. We have expertise in Oregon pests. We can help prevent unnecessary treatment or rejection of trees if we can show that an insect they might find is nothing to really worry about. This is more than just identifying Oregon insect pests, it’s identifying whether they are a threat to Hawaii.”
For instance, some insects feed only on certain types of hosts. If they only feed on Douglas fir, they probably won’t be a problem in Hawaii since Douglas fir is not grown in that state. On the other hand, ODA entomologists may find some pests of concern that Hawaii may not be aware of. The cooperation between the two state departments of agriculture can help all parties, including Oregon growers.
“Being there during the inspections as the trees arrive from Oregon will allow us to see what they find on those trees,” says LaBonte. “If there are certain types of weevils found on those trees, for example, we might be able to come back and help the grower better deal with the pest as the trees are in the field so they don’t end up getting into the trees.”
The ODA entomologists will also observe the hot water treatment– 118 degrees Fahrenheit for eight minutes– to see how effective it is in dealing with pests.
Information gleaned by ODA this coming week could be useful for other markets. Many of the importation requirements imposed by Hawaii are the same as those in other states and countries. In fact, the interaction between ODA and Hawaii is similar to what was done last year with officials in Mexico.
“They invited us to come down and provide information about the types of pests they might encounter and identify those that would be a concern to them,” says LaBonte. “That was a useful interaction. It built trust. Because Mexico trusted the information we provided, we were able to reduce the original pest list of concern to a small fraction of what it was originally. That ultimately gets more trees into the market with less trouble.”
For the more than 700 Christmas tree growers in Oregon, access to other states and countries is extremely important since Oregonians themselves can’t possibly buy the nearly 7 million tree annual production.
"Oregon Christmas tree growers have a reputation for shipping high quality, pest and disease-free trees," says ODA's McAninch. "Our inspection and certification is part of the equation that maintains that reputation."
For more information, contact Gary McAninch at (503) 986-4644.PDF versionAudio version