DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Christmas trees likely will cost a little more this year, and growers like John Tillman say it's about time.
Six years of decreased demand and low prices put many growers out of business. Those who withstood the downturn are relieved they survived.
"I'm awful proud to still be in the Christmas tree business," said Tillman, who ships up to 20,000 trees each fall from nine fields south of Olympia, Washington. "We lost a lot of farmers who didn't make it through."
Prices vary according to the variety of tree, but growers this year will see about $20 per tree, $2 more than the last several years, according to Bryan Ostlund, executive director of the Salem, Oregon-based Pacific Northwest Tree Association. Prices will likely rise as the holidays near and supply decreases.
Consumers looking to deck their home could pay a little more than last year, but costs vary widely depending on factors such as transportation, tree-lot rental space and big-box retailers' demand that prices remain stable. For example, a 6-foot Douglas fir in Oregon, which grows about one-third of the nation's Christmas trees, could sell for $25 while a similar tree hauled to Southern California might go for $80.
Tara Deering-Hansen, a spokeswoman for Midwestern supermarket chain Hy-Vee, said wholesale tree prices have climbed slightly but prices are set at each store and customers might not see any increase.
Heavy snow last week slowed the shipment of trees from Michigan, which ranks third in production and supplies much of the Midwest and parts of the South. In some loading yards, stacks of trees awaiting shipment were covered with up to 2 feet of snow.
"Getting the snow off was more work than loading the trees," said Dan Wahmhoff, co-owner of a nursery in southwestern Michigan. "It was definitely a challenge — wind and snow and cold, trucks were getting stuck — but we made it through."
In the coming years, growers expect the supply of trees to remain stable with prices gradually increasing, in part because it takes six to seven years for a seedling to grow large enough to sell.
Even with the increase, most growers are being paid less now than in the mid-2000s, when trees from new and expanded farms hit the market as demand fell. And the industry still faces challenges, as competition from artificial tree manufacturers and other factors have led to a drop in trees harvested, from 20.8 million in 2002 to 17.3 million in 2012, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The National Christmas Tree Association, based in Missouri, has encouraged growers to offer more options that meet the needs of younger people who live in urban areas and don't have space for a towering tree, says executive director Rick Dungey. More growers are realizing that if they offer different looks — such as a tree that could fit on a coffee table or one thin enough to squeeze into a narrow room — people will buy them, Dungey said.
"There are more options and choices out there," he said.
Small tree-farm owners who sell straight to customers aren't as affected by the factors increasing prices to consumers nationally.
Jenny Howell, whose family runs Howell Tree Farm southwest of Des Moines, said they'll raise prices a bit because of high fuel prices for mowers and other equipment over the summer and drought that caused some seedlings to die. But their customers typically return each winter and don't spend time comparing her farm's prices to those in city lots.
It can be cold, hard work traipsing through the snowy tree farm in December, but Howell said her family still enjoys it.
"It's a happy business," she said.
Associated Press writer John Flesher in Traverse City, Mich., contributed to this story.
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ATLANTA (AP) — Southern Democrats are joining others in the party who say that a return to advocating to lift people out of economic hardship and emphasizing spending on education and public works will re-energize black voters and attract whites as well.
"It's time to draw a line in the sand and not surrender our brand," Rickey Cole, the party chairman in Mississippi, said. He believes candidates have distanced themselves from the past half-century of Democratic principles.
"We don't need a New Coke formula," Cole said. "The problem is we've been out there trying to peddle Tab and RC Cola."
Cole and other Southern Democrats acknowledge divisions with prominent populists such as Hillary Rodham Clinton, who is expected to run for president in 2016, and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren. Yet they see merit in pushing stronger voting rights laws, tighter bank regulation, labor-friendly policies such as a higher minimum wage and other familiar party themes.
Democratic politics have become a tough sell in the conservative South. A major challenge in the region is finding candidates who can win high-profile races now that Republicans, who scored well in midterm elections earlier this month, dominate the leadership in state legislatures and across statewide offices.
Georgia Democrats thought legacy candidates were the answer. But Senate hopeful Michelle Nunn, former Sen. Sam Nunn's daughter, and gubernatorial challenger Jason Carter, former President Jimmy Carter's grandson, each fell short by about 8 percentage points despite well-funded campaigns and ambitious voter-registration drives.
Arkansas Democrats lost an open governor's seat and two-term Sen. Mark Pryor. Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu led an eight-candidate primary but faces steep odds in a Dec. 6 runoff. Democrats' closest statewide loss in the South was North Carolina Sen. Kay Hagan's 1.7 percentage point margin of defeat.
Exit polling suggests Democrats did not get the black turnout they needed and lost badly among whites. Nunn and Carter got fewer than 1 in 4 white votes, while Pryor took 31 percent and Landrieu 18 percent.
Should Landrieu lose, Democrats will be left without a single governor, U.S. senator or legislative chamber under their control from the Carolinas westward to Texas.
J.P. Morrell, a state senator from New Orleans, faulted a muddled message that began with candidates avoiding President Barack Obama. "You have to articulate why the economic policies we advocate as Democrats actually benefit people on the ground," Morrell said.
In Georgia, Nunn supported a minimum-wage increase and gender-pay equity, but her television ads focused on ending partisan rancor. Carter mostly accused Republican Gov. Nathan Deal of shortchanging public education. Nunn and Carter supported Medicaid expansion under Obama's health overhaul, but neither emphasized that argument in television advertising.
"No real economic message got through," said Vincent Fort, a state senator from Atlanta.
Georgia's Democratic chairman, DuBose Porter, defended Carter and Nunn as "world-class candidates" who can run again. He said Democrats "proved Georgia can be competitive in 2016," but he cautioned against looking for a nominee other than Clinton. "She puts us in play," he said.
In an interview, Carter focused more on tactics than on broad messaging, saying the party must register minority voters and continue outreach to whites. "If 120,000 people change their mind in this election, it comes out differently," he said. "But it takes a lot of time to build those relationships. ... You can't expect it to happen in one year."
Gary Pearce, a Democratic strategist and commentator in North Carolina, said Hagan's margin in a GOP wave offers hope for 2016, when statewide executive offices will be on the ballot. Fresh arguments, he said, "will have to come from younger Democrats in the cities." He pointed to several young Democratic candidates who won county commission seats in Wake County, home to Raleigh.
Cole, the Mississippi chairman, acknowledged that any new approach won't close the party's gap in the South on abortion, same-sex marriage and guns, and said Democrats intensify that cultural disconnect with "identity politics."
While the party's positions on gay rights, minority voting access, women's rights and immigration are not wrong, Cole said, "those people who don't see themselves in those groups say, 'What have the Democrats got for me?'"
Unapologetic populism, he said, would "explain better that the Democratic Party is for justice and opportunity — with no qualifiers — for everyone."
Associated Press writer Kathleen Foody in Atlanta contributed to this report.
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) — The Ebola scare has subsided in the United States, at least temporarily, but an Alabama manufacturer is still trying to catch up with a glut of orders for gear to protect against the disease.
Located in north Alabama, the family-owned Kappler Inc. of Guntersville typically gets only a few orders annually for the type of suit needed by health workers who are in contact with Ebola patients.
That changed once the disease showed up in Texas, Kappler vice president of marketing Dennis Sanders said. Quickly, orders were flooding in for thousands of the company's Provent 10,000 coverall.
"It happened, literally, overnight," he said. "We took orders in a couple of days that exceeded the orders we've had on that particular product in two or three years."
While the company has about 75,000 of the suits on back order, Sanders said, it has yet to need to add to its workforce of 150 employees or extend working hours.
"We'll probably be filling orders through April 2015," he said.
Other U.S. manufacturers also have reported seeing spikes in orders for protective gear, including surgical face mask manufacturer Kimberly-Clark. In China, Weifang Lakeland Safety Products has said it is doubling capacity to meet the demand for coveralls.
Kappler is the only company making protective suit entirely in the United States, Sanders said. Its product works because of a special method for sealing seams and APTRA, a plastic film that protects against blood and body fluids that could carry the Ebola virus, he said.
Kappler sells its suits to distributors that, in turn, sell to hospitals and health agencies. The Provent 10,000 suit costs about $25 retail.
While the company is now working through old orders, Sanders said he expects another round of new orders if Ebola again becomes a lead topic for news in the United States.
"Anytime there is an event in the world we get the inquiries about things like, 'How long would it take for a 1 million orders?" he said. "This time those calls turned in to orders."
The World Health Organization says more than 5,400 people have died in the current outbreak, mostly in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone in western Africa.
Ten people have been treated for Ebola in the United States, and one has died.
PHOENIX (AP) — If Christian Avila lived a few hundred miles to the west, he would have a driver's license and qualify for in-state college tuition and a host of other opportunities available to young people granted legal status by President Barack Obama two years ago.
But Avila lives in Phoenix, and the 24-year-old immigrant who was brought here from Mexico by his parents at age 9 still has to navigate the sprawling city in fear as he drives to school or work.
"You get nervous, your legs start to tingle a little bit when there's a cop behind you, when you're doing nothing wrong by driving to work,' said Avila, a community college student and immigration activist. "You're not breaking any rules, you're following the law. But unfortunately it's where we live."
With last week's action by Obama that expanded the deferred action program and added millions of other immigrants, Avila's plight highlights a harsh reality about the president's changes. The president may be allowing them to remain in the U.S., but it doesn't mean their state will let them drive a car, get an education at an affordable rate or obtain health insurance.
A patchwork of rules began to form in states — largely along political lines — after the president allowed some young immigrants to stay in the country. Conservative states like Nebraska and Arizona kept them from getting driver's licenses while liberal locations were much more welcoming in terms of state services and benefits.
Now, states must make new decisions on how to respond to the president's action that allows millions more immigrants to remain in the U.S.
In California, Democrats, immigration groups and health care advocates are pushing for the immigrants to receive health care under the state's version of the Medicaid program. The California Department of Health Care Services is deciding how to proceed. The president's action excludes immigrants who came to the country illegally from qualifying for federal health benefits.
In Nevada, officials are drawing up a bill for the Legislature making clear that unauthorized immigrants can become teachers in the state. Current rules specify that a prospective teacher must be a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident before they can receive a teaching license in Nevada.
A new gubernatorial administration in Arizona will have to decide whether to continue a hard-line approach toward state benefits that outgoing Gov. Jan Brewer took.
After Obama took action in 2012 granting legal status to 1.8 million young people brought to the U.S. as children, Brewer issued an executive order denying them driver's licenses or other state benefits, including in-state tuition at the state's public universities. A federal appeals court ruled the license ban was unconstitutional, and Brewer is considering an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
"Our position is unilateral action by the president does nothing to change the fact that an illegal alien's presence is the United States is not authorized under federal law," Brewer spokesman Andrew Wilder said.
Arizona's Republican Governor-elect, Doug Ducey, has said he intends to continue Brewer's current ban, if it survives court challenges.
Maryland's Democratic governor, Martin O'Malley, has taken a decidedly different tack. He's a supporter of state laws granting in-state tuition to people without legal status and grants them driver's licenses. He has even been willing to get into a policy fight with Obama on the stream of unaccompanied immigrant children from Central America over the Mexican border, criticizing the White House proposal earlier this year that could have expedited the deportation of the children.
Arizona remains an outlier in its treatment of immigrants granted work permits and is among the most harsh when it comes to those who remain in the U.S. without legal authorization.
States surrounding Arizona provide in-state tuition to all residents, regardless of immigration status. And in January, California joins nine other states in allowing immigrants who can't prove they're in the U.S legally to get a driver's license.
Utah provides leniency when it comes to driving privileges and education, despite passing a law in 2011 that mirrored Arizona's landmark immigration crackdown, SB1070. The state issues driving-privilege cards that must be renewed annually for those who cannot prove they're in the country legally.
Nearly 36,300 were issued last year, said Nannette Rolfe, the director of Utah's Driver License Division. Utah also offers in-state tuition at public universities and colleges to residents not in the U.S. legally.
To be eligible, students must have attended a Utah high school for at least three years and earned a diploma or GED. They can't hold a non-immigrant visa and must file an application to legalize their immigration status when eligible to do so. In the 2012-2013 academic students, 929 students took advantage of the program.
Despite the fact that life would be easier if he left the state, Avila said he's staying put.
"This is where we got dirty as kids, this is where we learn how to speak English, this is where we learn how to do a lot of stuff," he said. "Here in Arizona is where my friends, my family, live and I don't see it as an option to run away, but rather stand up and change the conditions that we live under."
AP reporters Judy Lin in Sacramento, California, Michelle Price in Salt Lake City, Michelle Rindels in Las Vegas and Brian Witte in Annapolis, Maryland contributed to this report.
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NEW YORK (AP) — For some Americans on opposite sides of a national debate, Michael Brown has become a symbol, epitomizing their polarized views on who bears the blame for the toll of young black men killed by police officers. Brown was a gentle giant, in one version. A defiant troublemaker, in another.
Yet as more details of the 18-year-old's life and death emerge, his legacy in the eyes of many is more nuanced, reflecting the ups and downs and challenges faced by many young Americans.
"He was someone trying to come into his own, trying to grow up in a world that's not that friendly to young people," civil rights lawyer Barbara Arnwine said.
"Other young people see themselves in him. They're not looking for someone who's perfect. It's his vulnerabilities that appeal to them," said Arnwine, president of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.
In the days after Brown's Aug. 9 shooting death at the hands of a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, a warm, upbeat portrait emerged.
After academic struggles in high school, he had buckled down to get his diploma last summer and was soon to enter a technical college. Friends and family recalled a sizable young man — 6-foot-5, nearly 300 pounds — with a gentle, joking manner, a fan of computer games, an aspiring rap musician.
"His biggest goal was to be part of something," said Charlie Kennedy, a health and physical education teacher at Ferguson's Normandy High School. "He was kindhearted, a little kid in a big body."
Subsequently, some less flattering details surfaced. A toxicology report showed that Brown had marijuana in his system on the day he died. Ferguson police released a video showing Brown snatching some cigars in a convenience store shortly before he was killed.
Then came the release of evidence and testimony presented to the grand jury that decided not to indict Darren Wilson, the police officer who shot and killed Brown. Wilson testified that Brown scuffled with him while he was in his patrol car, trying to grab his pistol, and moments later — after stepping away from the car — started to charge back at him.
"The only way I can describe it, it looks like a demon, that's how angry he looked," Wilson testified.
Some grand jury witnesses disputed Wilson's testimony, saying Brown did not make a charge. But to Brown's detractors, the officer's account reinforced negative feelings about the young man and further fueled their efforts to make him a symbol for their pro-police arguments.
"Here's the lessons from Ferguson America," wrote rocker and conservative activist Ted Nugent on his Facebook page. "Don't let your kids grow up to be thugs who think they can steal, assault & attack cops as a way of life & badge of black (dis)honor."
The Rev. E.W. Jackson, a conservative black pastor based in Virginia, depicted Brown as "in many ways a typical kid growing up the in black community."
"He imbibed a lot of negative attitudes about what manhood is all about," Jackson said. "I wish this kid could have been redeemed to go on to live a wonderful life."
"But something is wrong when you start wrestling with a police officer over his gun," Jackson added. "I have nothing but sympathy for his parents, but you can't absolve Michael Brown of responsibility for this situation."
Arnwine, the civil rights lawyer, was infuriated that Wilson's negative testimony had been made available to the grand jurors and to the public.
"It was meant to portray Michael Brown in the worst possible way, as a foul-mouthed, violent, rude, aggressive person," she said. "It was meant to give people the impression of this scary black man who deserved to die."
She said the turnout of throngs of young people of all races at rallies and protests nationwide gave a truer picture of Brown's legacy.
"When you see their passion, hear the pain in their voices, you can see they honestly relate to this young man," Arnwine said. "They feel that he absolutely embodied the struggles that they are going through."
"He was someone struggling to create his identity, make his music, hang with his friends," she said. "You're caught betwixt and between, trying to be an adult but still in your teens."
The president of the NAACP, Cornell William Brooks, said he met Brown's parents and some of his young friends in the aftermath of the shooting.
"Michael Brown contained all the virtues and all the flaws of a great many young people, irrespective of race or class," Brooks said. "There was something about him, and what happened to him, that inspired young people to transform a local social-justice challenge into a global civil rights issue, something that spoke to their sense of conscience."
The intense scrutiny of Brown's life and the accompanying moral judgments have angered some of those following the case.
"It's not for us to say if he was angel or if he would have become a billionaire after he got his college degree," said James Peterson, director of Africana Studies and an associate professor of English at Lehigh University.
"I hate the narrative that it's more sad that he was two days away from starting college. What if he wasn't?" Peterson asked. "It doesn't matter what we think his legacy was. He was a human being who didn't deserve to have his life snuffed out."
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