One million co-operative Christmas trees are waiting to be claimed in the farms and forests of rural Wales.
The Welsh Co-operative of Christmas Tree Growers is now bringing together four of the best-known Christmas tree growers and producers in Wales.
All seasoned farmers with years of experience in looking after varying kinds of animals and acreage, they are based respectively in Knighton, Powys; Three Crosses, Gower; Ystrad Meurig, Ceredigion; and Llanddarog, Carmarthen.
All four of them still operate independently but share a wish to work together and meet the growing demand for home-grown trees in a collective way of doing business.
The longest-established of the four is Steve Reynolds, who has a 400-acre farm high in the hills of mid-Wales complete with 500 sheep and 30 cattle.
The land has been in his family for two generations and it’s over 20 years since Steve started to diversify into the Christmas market.
“I started planting Christmas trees back in 1991 on a part of my land away from the main farm which wasn’t suitable for the animals to graze on.
“I thought it was worth a try, planted a few trees and here I am over 20 years later with 300,000 of them.”
Several years ago, Steve met fellow farmer Roger Hunt from Carmarthen at a regular meeting of the British Christmas Tree Growers Association, the trade association for specialist growers in Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
The two decided to join forces and issue an open invitation to Welsh farmers also interested in working collectively to grow business.
“We were both doing OK but we realised we would probably do better by working with others in a co-operative way to meet demand,” says Steve
That was in 2009 and since then the four current members of the co-operative have held formal meetings and agreed to help each other out when necessary.
They keep in regular touch by e-mail to swap expertise and offer each other advice on technical matters, including how to source the seeds and saplings from Russia and Denmark as well as lending each other the equipment to cut down the trees when necessary.
Steve Reynolds still sells thousands of trees wholesale to local garden centres but thanks to the success of the co-operative he is finding that more and more of his seasonal business is sales direct to the consumer.
“The Welsh Co-operative tree brand is becoming more and more popular and thousands of them are now distributed right across Wales and beyond,” he says.
Roger Hunt, who has a small farm near Carmarthen in south Wales, grows several different varieties of tree including the traditional Norway Spruce as well as pot-grown trees.
He says: “Between us we grow several different varieties of tree and if one of us can’t supply a certain species then we know the other one can deliver.”
The co-operative has already received expert business help from the Welsh Assembly and the Wales Co-operative Centre; and the long-term plan is to adopt a more formal structure and approach Co-operatives UK for advice on taking the co-operative forward.
For all four farmers involved it’s a 12-month operation ensuring that their spruces are in tip-top condition.
They were recently in the news for providing Christmas trees to the National Botanical Garden of Wales for its annual Schools’ Christmas Tree Decorating competition. And this Christmas alone, they will be supplying over 100,000 trees to families in Wales and across the UK.
Roger says: “It’s hard work for all of us throughout the year, shaping and pruning the trees and keeping them free from weeds. We’ve done well this year because of the excellent dry summer which has been great for tree production.
“Even when the weather is bad, which is often, we all love the work. However as you can imagine it gets absolutely frantic meeting demand in the weeks immediately before Christmas."
He adds: “We are doing very well and our long-term aim is to get to the stage where we have a central retail point in Wales and are employing people all year round instead of seasonally.
“More and more people are going back to buying real trees which is very encouraging, but we would like to get to the point where there is no need to import Christmas trees at all.
“We are supplying more trees every year because the quality is guaranteed..
“If you get a Welsh tree it won’t have been on a truck for very long unlike the trees from major supermarkets so our customers are also doing their bit to reduce carbon footprint. Our trees are fresher because we cut them on a daily basis and then re-plant immediately which is better for the environment. And we can be more competitive pricewise because there are no middlemen involved.”