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Spotlighting American ag

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

Popular holiday traditions wouldn’t be possible without agriculture

From freshly-cut Christmas trees and vibrant poinsettias to ugly sweaters and big family feasts, the holiday season is the perfect time of year to spotlight America’s agricultural producers. 


Found in millions of homes, on countless holiday cards and in every Christmas movie, the Christmas tree is perhaps the most obvious holiday tradition connected to agriculture. 

According to “The History Channel,” the history of Christmas trees has many roots, ranging from the use of evergreens in ancient Egypt and Rome to the German tradition of candlelit trees, which made its way to America in the 1800s. 

Today, erecting a Christmas tree during the holiday season is so popular, Christmas trees can be found in 75 percent of U.S. households or 94 million homes, according to 2021 data published by the American Christmas Tree Association. 

The National Christmas Tree Association (NCTA) reports there are currently close to 350 million Christmas trees growing on 15,000 farms in all 50 states.These farms span 350,000 acres, and the industry employs over 100,000 people. 

The top five producing states are Oregon, North Carolina, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Washington.

In addition to a tree wrapped in sparkling lights, poinsettias offer a natural and simple way to add a pop of color to any space for the holidays. 

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Economic Research Service (ERS), poinsettias first grew in popularity as an icon of Christmas after they were imported from Mexico in the 1820s. 

“In the early 2000s, the U.S. imported as many as 5.9 million live plants per year before the number dipped to 1.2 million in 2011, in parallel to the narrowing of the U.S. to Canadian dollar exchange rate,” explains ERS. 

“In recent years, the number of plants has gradually increased with a more significant increase in value,” ERS continues. “In 2022, live poinsettia imports totaled 2.2 million plants, worth $11.5 million.” 

The USDA’s most recent Census of Horticultural Specialities, published in 2019, notes more poinsettias than live Christmas trees were sold that year, at a whopping 47 million plants. 

Food and fiber

Another holiday favorite – the candy cane – has roots in ag. 

According to common legend, a German choirmaster bent straight, white sugar sticks to look like a shepherd’s hook to keep his choirboys from fidgeting. The iconic red and white striping came later, near the turn of the 19th century. 

Today, the U.S. produces over 70 percent of the world’s peppermint and spearmint, with the majority of peppermint grown in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Indiana, California and Wisconsin, according to agronomists at ESN SmartNitrogen. 

Whether one loves it or hates it, eggnog is also derived from U.S. ag producers.

Traditionally made from a combination of eggs, egg yolks, sugar, milk and heavy cream, ESN notes 99 billion eggs are produced in the U.S. each year, with the states of Iowa, Ohio, Indiana, Pennsylvania and Texas leading the way.  

Reports from the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service showed milk production in the U.S., as of November 2023, totaled 17.3 billion pounds. The number of milk cows across the states totaled 89 million head, producing an average of 1,948 pounds per cow.

Cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger are three of the most prominent spices used during the holiday season. The popularity of this flavor profile can be traced back to an old belief these spices could keep people warm in the winter. 

While the U.S. grows most of its ginger in Hawaii and Georgia, nutmeg and cinnamon are mostly imported into the U.S., according to ESN. 

In January 2021, Purdue University conducted a survey on holiday behaviors, including the most popular dishes consumed at holiday meals.

Researchers found, among respondents, the most popular protein served on Christmas Day is ham, closely followed – in order – by turkey, beef and chicken.

According to USDA, nearly 318 million pounds of ham are consumed on average during the holidays. 

Ugly sweaters and Christmas pajamas are made from wool and cotton produced in the U.S. 

ERS notes 17 states, stretching from Virginia to California, grow cotton, with nearly 15 million bales produced in 2022. Texas is the top producing state in the nation, contributing approximately 40 percent of U.S. production in recent years. 

“One bale of cotton – approximately 480 pounds of cleaned cotton lint – can make more than 200 pairs of jeans or 1,200 T-shirts,” shares ERS. 

The American Sheep Industry Association (ASI) reports the U.S. produced 22.2 million pounds of greasy wool in 2022, with more than half of American-produced wool shorn and sold during the spring months of April, May and June. 

The top five producing states in 2022 were California at 2.23 million pounds, Wyoming at 2.17 million pounds, Colorado at 2.1 million pounds, Utah at 2.02 million pounds and South Dakota at 1.75 million pounds. 

“The average weight of a fleece in the U.S. is seven pounds,” notes ASI. “However, there is a variance from state to state. For example, an average fleece produced in North Carolina weighs six pounds, while an average fleece produced in Nevada weighs nine pounds.” 

According to USDA, one sheep, on average, produces enough wool for six Christmas sweaters. 

Hannah Bugas is the managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to

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