New York's Christmas tree farmers are suffering.
Sales of homegrown trees in the Empire State have fallen 66% over the past 10 years, according to TV station WHAM Rochester. Tree farms in the Empire State are apparently losing business to out-of-state competitors and fake-tree manufacturers, whose sales are booming.
State Senator Rich Funke (R-Fairport) has been trying to help local farmers through a proposal to drop a 4% sales tax for homegrown trees and wreaths, but his measure didn't go anywhere.
"[Tree farms] are competing against artificial trees," he told WHAM. "They're also competing against out-of-state growers and they need a level playing field."
The changing preferences are not unique to New York. The size of the fresh-cut Christmas tree market declined 6% as the fake-tree market exploded 655% from 1965 to 2008, the Wall Street Journal reported last year.
According to the National Christmas Tree Association (NCTA), on a unit basis, real Christmas trees still outsell fake ones considerably. But that's probably because people who buy fake trees don't need to buy new ones each year.
U.S. tree growers recently won a 15-cent federal tax on all fresh-cut trees sold in the U.S. to fund a national marketing campaign. The Journal reported that the tax was meant to help tree growers across the country "match the heavy advertising the fake-tree industry does so well."
There is not much research on consumer preferences when it comes to Christmas trees. It's possible people are trying to save money over the long term by buying artificial trees, or that they're tired of the mess real ones create by shedding pine needles in the home. Convenience also likely plays a part: Nearly 50% of trees are bought at retail locations like Walmart or at retail lots, NCTA data show, where the trees are more likely to be artificial.
Whatever the reason, fake trees appear to be gaining ground.
Rob covers business, economics and the environment for Fusion. He previously worked at Business Insider. He grew up in Chicago.