Pikeville Christmas tree farmer says business is dying, not what it used to be

Andy Bickford can't imagine ever having to give up the business. But, besides fighting the weather every year, times are changing and the business isn't what it used to be. (Image: WTVC)

One Christmas tree farmer scrambling to make ends meet this holiday season.

Andy Bickford and his wife have been growing trees in Bledsoe County for more than 40 years at the Little Mountain Tree Farm. They say the business is dying and getting more expensive, and they don’t know how much longer they can keep this up.

"We started planting our first trees in 1974," said Bickford.

And he can't imagine ever having to give it up. But, Bickford says, besides fighting the weather every year, times are changing and the business isn't what it used to be.

"In the 90's and 2000's we were selling the trees by the thousands but, of course, as the economy crashed then the tree business and the whole nursery industry crashed with the economy," he said.

Related | Local Tree Farmer says Christmas Tree Sales Down

The number of trees Bickford plants now has drastically decreased.

"We used to plant nearly 5,000 trees a season every year. Because of the recession, we dropped down to where we only try to plant maybe a thousand," he said. The drought of 2016 also impacted the number of trees planted, but now there's another issue.

According to Bickford, the state comes to inspect his nursery twice a year. He says, when he first opened his business, the inspections were free. Bickford tells us they aren't anymore.

"It went to 100 dollars, then two, then to three and then here this last year - they went from three to 600 dollars," Bickford told NewsChannel 9.

$600 - a price Bickford couldn't afford to pay this year.

"What in the world are they doing to me? They’re gonna drive the final nail in my coffin," Bickford said.

Without the certificate, he's left with only one option.

"We’re giving our trees away for free," he said. And allowing people to give a donation, if they can afford it.

Bickford is staying upbeat and positive this holiday season, however.

"We’re hoping [the industry] will eventually come back like it was," Bickford added.

Monday, we asked the Tennessee Department of Agriculture why the price of the inspections has increased. We didn't receive an immediate answer to that, but a spokesperson did tell us that there is a $300 annual licensing fee for farmers. The spokesperson added that if Bickford is just selling cut Christmas trees, no license is needed. The license is only required for B&B trees.

The state also gave this statement: "One of our staff will follow up with the farm tomorrow to make sure they understand the requirements. We certainly support business opportunities for Tennessee’s farmers and foresters and want to make sure that consumers have access to healthy plants and trees," added Corinne Gould, Assistant Commissioner for Public Affairs, Department of Agriculture.

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