Both also are focusing on identi fying more than two or three types of conifers for area farmers to grow, on the theory that diver sity of choice always pays divi dends. About 40 percent of all the Christmas trees harvested annu ally in the Northwest are shipped to California, said Bryan Os tlund, executive director of the Pacific Northwest Christmas Tree Association. “Consumer tastes are always changing,” Barney said. “Scotch pine used to be the main choice, but it’s not any more. To be competitive, grow ers have to find the cutting edge.” Jim Storms, president of the In land Empire Christmas Tree As sociation, said his group repre sents nearly 50 growers across eastern Washington, Idaho and Montana. That number has held steady for the past 10 years. Retailers this year are hoping fresh Christmas tree sales hold up to last year’s total of roughly 27 million. The National Christ mas Tree Association is promot ing fresh-tree sales through sev eral marketing efforts, including a “trees for U.S. troops” cam paign expected to send more than 3,000 trees overseas. Storms stays in contact with re searchers such as Barney, be cause he knows the consumer trend is toward the “exotic” ev ergreens such as the grand and subalpine firs. “Those are trees that have been imported into this area, so when we grow them, we’re doing that outside their native regions,” said Storms. He’d like to grow the pricier noble firs but Garfield’s sum mers are too dry for that variety. The closest he can come is the subalpine fir, he said. According to the Pacific North west Christmas Tree Associa tion, this year’s harvest will gen erate wholesale revenue of about $130 million in Oregon and about $50 million in Washing ton state. Oregon has been and continues to be the nation’s major produc er, with production of about 7.3 million trees this year, the asso ciation says. Washington will rank sixth this year, with 2 mil lion trees. Behind Oregon, the leading other states are North Carolina, Michigan, Pennsylva nia and Wisconsin. Said Chastagner, “This is a good industry to support. It’s important for people in many rural areas that used to rely on timber and have seen changes in that industry.” Grow-and-cut farms do well in larger cities where there’s enough population to support the business, and also serve as land protectors in the face of urban sprawl, he said. “It’s a viable way of maintain ing farmland in those areas,” he said. 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MORERose Parade grand marshal Rita Moreno talks New Year’s Day outfit and ‘West Side Story’ remake “Clearly, the market growth has been with the artificial-tree in dustry,” said Chastagner, a plant pathologist with the WSU exten sion office in Puyallup who’s known widely as “Mr. Christ mas Tree.” Researchers around the world turn to Chastagner to discuss ideas on seed germination or other methods of devising a bet ter tree, said Barney, a UI horti culture professor who heads that school’s research and extension center in Sandpoint. They and others supported by funds from wholesale tree grow ers don’t believe they will ever develop the perfect Christmas tree. But they’re convinced they can breed trees that last longer, stay fresher and smell more Christmasy than what’s now available. Barney researches which variet ies of trees grow best and fastest in the Inland Northwest – an area with lower Christmas tree pro duction than many other parts of the country. Chastagner focuses on developing improved ver sions of conifers that smell fresher and remain greener after being harvested and sent to retail lots. Both agree there is no “Great Green Hope” – a perfect variety of tree that will please all cus tomers. But they’ve found some populations of firs that hold up better than others, said Chastag ner. Both Barney and Chastag ner spend much of their time working with noble and Fraser firs, two conifers that retain moisture well and lose fewer needles once placed inside a home or shopping mall. SANDPOINT, Idaho – People like Danny Barney and Gary Chastagner stay in touch this time of year, comparing notes on how the battle is going. The two are university research ers who are both trying to hold the line against a common foe: artificial Christmas trees. Their focus is on producing the ideal fresh Christmas tree, which would help tree growers in this part of the country. The two researchers, one in Sandpoint with the University of Idaho and the other in Puyallup with Washington State Univer sity, know that live Christmas trees have seen better days. Since 1986 the U.S. population has grown by about 50 million people, but the number of live trees cut and sold has fallen from 36 million each year to about 27 million.