Christmas tree farm gives Shawnee couple another revenue stream

11/26/2013 11:50 AM

11/26/2013 7:40 PM

Phil and Judy Wegman like Christmas trees so much they have thousands of them in the yard beside their house.

The Wegmans own Midland Holiday Pines, a Christmas tree farm that’s next door to them in Shawnee.

Opening this Friday for the season, Midland Holiday Pines will sell trees for an additional three weekends before closing up shop for the holidays. During that time, the Wegmans plan to sell 400 to 500 trees that have grown on the couple’s four planted acres.

That’s their small share of supplying the 30 million to 35 million U.S. families who celebrate the season with a freshly cut tree, according to the National Christmas Tree Association.

Midland Holiday Pines mainly grows Scotch pines, which the Wegmans say do well in this climate.

“We also grow some white pines, but we don’t plant Eastern Red Cedars, although it’s native to Kansas,” Wegman said.

“In any given year, we’ll have 400 marketable trees, but we also will bring in white pines and Fraser firs. They’re the Cadillac of Christmas trees … beautiful trees, and they don’t drop their needles.”

The Wegmans also offer wreaths and loose boughs of evergreens, and they allow their tree farm to be used for holiday photo shoots for a $25 sitting fee.

“We like to do the majority of those before the selling season starts,” he said.

Q: How did you get into the Christmas tree business?

“It wasn’t by design,” Wegman said. He and his wife both grew up around farms and enjoy the outdoors. Back in 1995, the Wegmans learned their neighbor was looking to sell the property next to them, a horse pasture. They heard rumors that a developer was looking to buy the plot and build apartments — something the Wegmans didn’t like. So they bought the land, though using it for horses “wasn’t something we wanted to do,” Wegman said.

Meanwhile, Judy Wegman’s cousin had a Christmas tree farm close by, and she suggested the couple create one, too.

“We had no idea how much work it was,” Wegman said with a laugh. “We read everything we could get our hands on and started accumulating equipment and fencing.… We’d advise anyone going into it to know what you’re getting into.”

The Wegmans planted their first round of trees in 1995 but didn’t open up until 2002.

“It takes seven years to grow a marketable tree,” Wegman said. “We sell a tree when it’s 6 feet or higher.”

The average price for a Midland Holiday Pines is around $48 with some slightly higher or lower.

“I try not to go up in price,” Wegman said. “We never know how the season is going to go.”

Q: When you are not selling the Christmas trees, what else goes on at the farm?

“Right after the season, we go out and clear stumps,” Wegman said. “Come spring we’ll order new trees and plant them, and we have to mow, and spray for mites.”

Summer months are spent shaping and pruning the trees.

“They don’t grow shaped like Christmas trees, so we have to do that,” he said. “Right before the season, we price them and tag the ones we want to sell.”

The Wegmans do all this while holding down full-time jobs. Phil Wegman works in continuing education at Johnson County Community College, and Judy Wegman is a dietitian. The Wegmans have three employees they bring on during the short season, and their two adult daughters help out, too.

Q: How do you compete with other Christmas tree businesses?

“The thing we offer is the experience of cutting your own tree, to be out on a farm and in the fresh air,” Wegman said. “It’s more a full experience.”

The Wegmans offer hayrides on a tractor-pulled wagon as well as hot chocolate and cider for customers.

“The corner on the market we have is location,” he said. “We’re highly visible and we’re close in to the city.”

Word of mouth has been the best advertising the Wegmans employ to sell their Christmas trees. They also market Midland Pines using social media, as well as mailing fliers to all of their customers from previous years.

Q: What’s the greatest challenge in running a Christmas tree business?

“The weather,” Wegman said. “We do not have an irrigated operation, so we count on the weather. In a drought year we lose a lot of trees.… It takes a while to recuperate from a weather issue. Once the trees are 3 to 4 feet tall they’re very durable.”

Then there are the deer that love to feed on the pine trees.

“We have a deer fence that’s an electric fence with one wire around the perimeter and two wires set inside of it,” Wegman said. “It helps some, but there’s no perfect solution. They’re so agile.”

Despite the challenges of the Christmas tree business, Wegman and his family like it.

“We like to see things grow,” he said. “We’re working hard, but we enjoy seeing families come out and get their trees year after year.… At Christmas time people are in a much happier mood.”

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