THE NCDA’S UPPER MOUNTAIN RESEARCH STATION
The NCDA’s Upper Mountain Research Station is located in Laurel Springs, North Carolina. The Station recently participated in an interview about the NC State University Christmas Tree Genetics Program which you can see here.
The Upper Mountain Research Station has an elevation of 3,200 feet, making it the highest research station in the state. The 454-acre station is host to a variety of research programs centered around Christmas trees, livestock and agriculture. Crops including tobacco, corn, pumpkins and turfgrass are tested for their suitability for high elevations. The station also has a variety of greenhouses.
Ashe County produces more Christmas trees than any other county in the U.S, and many of these trees are Fraser Firs. Researchers at the Station conduct trials on Fraser Fir seedlings and transplants as well as field trials for Fraser Fir improvement. Other researchers conduct post-harvest studies to lengthen the amount of time a Christmas tree remains fresh.
In addition, the station has planted a seed orchard that will be the only source of “certified” Fraser Fir seed in the world. Construction of a new building to process seed is underway with the goal of having seed commercially available to growers by 2029. This seed orchard was established in 2018 and will be licensed to NC Department of Agriculture. The seed produced in that orchard will provide genetically improved Christmas tree materials to the growers. Christmas trees grown from this seed will produce trees that grow faster and are of a higher quality.
The Station should collect enough cones from this seed orchard in 2026 to begin to supply the NC Christmas tree industry. But to realistically get to the point of actually providing these materials to growers requires that it completes the intervening steps in the supply chain.
The NCDA Upper Mountain Research Station (UMRS) partners with NC State in the effort to provide elite genetics to growers. It maintains a current generation of Fraser fir genetics and manages the most elite Fraser fir seed orchard in the world.
Being the highest elevation station in the state also makes this Station the “coldest” station in the state, and research on Fraser Fir Christmas trees is conducted here since the higher elevations are where they grow best. The colder climate allows the Station to do cold tolerance work with other commodities such as warm season grasses, small grains, and aquatic weeds. If more cold tolerant varieties of small grains and grasses can be breeded, this can lead to less crop loss not only in the high country but also in other parts of the United States as well.
Upper Mountain also has a resident herd of registered Black Angus cattle. In addition to its resident herd, it also houses animals from other stations during the summer months so the animals can enjoy the cooler temperatures and take advantage of the abundant forages.
Upper Mountain is in the process of constructing a new facility which will house equipment for extracting, processing and testing tree seed. In the next 5 years or so, the building should be completed and the orchard will begin producing a meaningful amount of seed. This should increase the tree experience for producers as well as provide a better experience for consumers of NC Premium Fraser Fir Christmas Trees.