Christmas trees will be more expensive this year amid shortages in Oregon, North Carolina
Americans will pay more for
pre-cut Christmas trees this year as shortages deepen from the
country's top two producers, Oregon and North Carolina.
Joe Territo sells Oregon trees
in San Jose, California. But he's becoming increasingly
frustrated with rising costs, from the
trees to labor. Territo says the only figure going
down is profit.
"It seems like every year, it's harder and
harder," Territo said. He expects to sell 6-foot Noble firs for
about $75 a piece this season, up from about $69 last
The problem is one of supply.
Christmas tree growers are coming up short as their 2017 harvest
enters its critical period, with trees being shipped coast-to-coast
Around the time of the Great
Recession, growers had an oversupply of trees after planting
too many in the early 2000s. Subsequent low prices
forced many farmers out of the Christmas tree business, leaving
other growers to tend to the market.
But now, with only so many trees to go
around, remaining farmers can't keep up with
demand - and they might not catch up for years. It can take nine
years before some trees are ready to be cut and
Oregon farms harvest the most trees in the United
States, exporting them to places like Asia and California. Trees
from North Carolina are generally shipped to states east of the
Mississippi River, such as Florida.
Supply is tight
Casey Grogan is a manager at Silver Bells
Tree Farm, a few hundred acres outside Oregon's capital city,
Salem. He reckons the farm has received 20 times its normal
number of customer inquiries.
"We just have enough to supply the customers
we've been supplying, so we're not able to help them," Grogan
But Grogan is optimistic for fellow
Oregonians who should be able to find fresh fir trees. And there
are many u-cut tree farms.
"The people that are really gonna suffer from
this, I think, are going to be people in Southern
California, Arizona, Texas, places like that," he said.
Tim O'Connor, executive director of the National
Christmas Tree Association, denies a shortage, but
acknowledges, "Supply is tight."
"Everyone who wants a tree will be able to get
one," O'Connor said.
Christmas tree farmers aren't so confident.
"Right now, there's a tree shortage. It's been
coming down the line for the last eight or 10 years, or so," said
Jason Hupp, who helps manage Hupp Farms near Silver Falls
State Park in Oregon.
"So our biggest challenges are having enough
trees to supply customers and just getting phone calls after
phone calls after phone calls of people desperate for trees that
don't exist," he said.
One recent morning, a helicopter piloted
by Terry Harchenko swooped over Hupp Farms, snatching
up bundles of trees after Raul Sosa, a lone worker clad
in high-visibility orange, connected them to a hook on
the chopper's dangling line.
It's dangerous work - the hook could
swing and strike Sosa - but worker and pilot worked
gracefully in concert.
"It's like air ballet. It's crazy,"
Hupp said beforehand.
The helicopter dropped the heavy trees in a
nearby lot, where other workers pulled away ropes holding them
together. Many Hupp Farms trees will head down south to
Wholesale growers estimate they're raising
prices at least 10 percent year-over-year. Growers don't
expect normal harvest levels for Christmas trees to return until at
least 2021 or 2025.
Like Hupp Farms in Oregon, Barr
Evergreens in North Carolina can fulfill wholesale
orders for its existing customers but has to
turn away new ones, said owner Rusty Barr.
Barr expects to raise prices $2 to $3 for pre-cut
Fraser fir trees at his retail outfit. That's on top of the
$60 to $80 they've sold for in the past, depending on size.
North Carolina harvested an estimated 3.5 million
trees in 2016, according to the Pacific Northwest Christmas Tree
Association. The state was followed by Michigan (3 million),
Pennsylvania (2.3 million) and Washington (1.5 million).
By contrast, Oregon cut down approximately
5.2 million trees.
For Oregon growers, popular Noble firs are
especially lucrative - but they only grow so fast, often
spending nine years in the ground to grow to 6
feet in the Pacific Northwest.
"That's the Cadillac of the industry," said Bob
Schaefer, general manager of Noble Mountain Tree Farm.
The Salem, Oregon, area wholesaler is massive, usually
harvesting about half a million trees a year from the more
than 4,000 acres the company grows on in the Willamette
One of the factors driving the shortage was a
practically nonexistent crop of Noble fir cones for 15 years, with
a good crop finally returning in 2016, Schaefer said. Without
cones, there're no seedlings and no trees.
Limited supplies of the Noble fir seedlings led
Noble Mountain to fill production holes with Douglas firs,
assuming customers would still want a Christmas tree of some sort.
But some buyers aren't eager to branch out.
"There's a lot of pent-up demand for Noble fir
that, you know, probably, to some extent, won't be met this year,"
He expects Noble fir harvest levels to return to
normal in 2025 or 2026.
California is Noble Mountain's biggest customer,
but the company sends trees elsewhere in the U.S., and even
down to Mexico, where the market is hot for its abundance of
"This year, we're shipping more to Mexico than
we've ever shipped before," Schaefer said.
Not worried about the competition
Even as shortages affect the Pacific Northwest,
competitors in North Carolina don't keep Schaefer up at night.
For starters, cross-country freight prices tend
to keep the competition at bay. "I won't say it's prohibitive, but
it pretty much prices their product out of the realm of reason for
the consumer in most cases," he said.
Barr, the North Carolina wholesaler, agrees.
With freight costs, "it's getting pricey to go to Denver," he
There's also a rule of thumb among Christmas tree
farmers: West Coast trees remain west of the Mississippi,
and East Coast trees stay east of the river. Scattered
exceptions crop up, such as when wholesalers compete for Lone Star
"We kind of bash heads in Texas," Schaefer
Fending off fake trees
Shortages and rising prices are fueling concerns
among growers that customers will turn to artificial trees,
whose shelf lives long outlast those of their natural
Oregon growers sold 4.7 million real trees in
2015, falling more than a quarter from sales five years
according to the United States Department of Agriculture.
Artificial trees accounted for nearly 81
million of Christmas trees displayed in the U.S. in 2016,
while nearly 19 million were real,
according to estimates from the nonprofit American Christmas
With a dramatic shortage that's not expected to
reverse for another six or eight years - if not
longer - Hupp, in Oregon, is worried customers will
buy artificial because they can't find the real thing.
"Their families will get used to that being the
norm," he said.
Read the article/view video at The Statesman Journal
Written by Johnathon Bach
Monday, October 30, 2017