Oregon Christmas tree shortage expected to hike prices
SALEM, Ore. - November has just arrived, but Oregon Christmas
trees are already on their way to such destinations as Asia,
Hawaii, and Mexico. In the next several weeks, Oregon - the
nation's leading producer of Christmas trees - will ship
trees to most U.S. states and many countries around the world.
It's a frenzied time of year for growers and Oregon
Department of Agriculture inspectors who certify
the trees as pest- and disease-free.
"It gets real hectic over the next month and there can always
be weather issues, but the job is great for me," says ODA
inspector Christy Brown, whose territory this year includes
portions of Clackamas County. "I love seeing Oregon and
meeting people I wouldn't ordinarily meet."
With as much as 90 percent of Oregon's 383 licensed Christmas
tree growers shipping out of state, ODA inspectors will be
working seven days a week until early to mid-December, when
harvest and shipping finally ends.
There is also tremendous value placed by the industry on the
role of ODA Christmas tree inspectors. So many trees need to
be checked and determined free of pests and diseases in such a
short time frame. Those trees don't move across Oregon's
borders without the all-important piece of paper that
indicates they have been inspected and cleared by ODA.
"Our inspection is very important to the Christmas tree
industry," says Brown. "We are the gatekeepers for a lot the
trade that goes on. The phytosanitary certificate is an
international standard for paperwork that follows these
trees to their destination. If you want to ship trees to
other countries and other states, you need somebody like us-
government officials who do third-party inspection."
Inspection takes place in the field before harvest and again
just prior to shipment. Inspectors don't look at every tree,
but randomly walk through a representative part of the field
looking for potential problems.
They also check after trees are cut and growers use a
mechanical shaker to get rid of any pests that might be
present right before those trees go into a container.
The process has been largely successful in
preventing problems. Failure at this end can mean trouble
at the export destination and a financial headache for the grower
or shipper if those trees are rejected.
Exports of Christmas trees remain important to the state's
economy, and ODA is essential to those exports as inspectors
check to make sure trees bound for other states and countries
don't carry unwanted pests or diseases. Phytosanitary
certificates signed by the inspector give the trees a clean
bill of health and clear the way for shipment. Inspecting and
issuing certificates will be a daily chore over the next few
Whenever growers request an inspection, no matter date,
time, location, or weather conditions, the ODA inspector
responds as soon as possible.
Many of the trees currently being inspected and readied for
shipment will end up in overseas retail stores, on display by
Thanksgiving. Some trees head for US military bases around the
globe. Export shipments inspected and cleared by ODA last
year included 28 to Singapore, 23 to Hong Kong, 14 to Canada,
7 to Japan, 4 to the United Arab Emirates, 3 to the Philippines, 2
to Vietnam, and 1 each to China, Korea, and Palau. But
Mexico continues to be responsible for 95 percent of the
exported Christmas trees from Oregon, last year with 1,675
The movement of Oregon Christmas trees to export markets is
more complicated this year because of the presence of
Douglas-fir twig weevil. Mexico has a zero tolerance for the
insect. Under an agreed-upon protocol, ODA will not certify
trees from fields in which more than one live Douglas-fir
twig weevil has been found during a 30-minute inspection
period. This protocol allows ODA to certify Christmas
trees during this unusual year of weevil activity while
still meeting Mexico's requirements.
A lot of what Brown and other inspectors are doing right
now is cutting a twig from a cross-section of trees in the
field, peeling back the bark, and visually looking for the
"Other than the Douglas-fir twig weevil, the export market and
our job really hasn't changed too much from a regulatory point
of view," says Brown.
In the past, some growers who ship to Mexico might simply send
Noble firs instead of Douglas firs, thereby avoiding the
specific pest in the first place. But a shortage of Noble firs
- and Christmas trees in general - has resulted in more
Douglas firs heading south, as long as they are weevil-free.
The tree shortage this year will result in higher prices.
Harvest of Christmas trees can take anywhere from 7 to 10
years after planting. The cyclical supply and demand impact
has led to fewer trees being planted in recent years after
a previous oversupply of trees.
The latest Oregon Christmas tree survey conducted by the US
Department of Agriculture's National Agricultural Statistics
Service (NASS) captured 2015 data. Over a five year
period, the number of trees cut and sold was down 26 percent,
at 4.7 million trees. The amount of acreage growing Christmas
trees dropped 28 percent, at 41,223 acres compared to
2010 data. All indications are that the trend of fewer
trees being harvested continues.
That probably means fewer trees heading to export markets this
year. Still, ODA inspectors remain busy. It isn't always about
exports or even trees headed to Oregon's top overall customer,
neighboring California. Inspectors also look at Christmas
trees that never leave the state.
Growers often request the expertise of ODA to identify
problems in the field, even though there is no requirement for
certification of trees that remain in Oregon. It's just
another way of maintaining the good reputation of high-quality
Oregon Christmas trees.
"Oregon Christmas tree growers are known for shipping
high quality, pest and disease-free trees," says Gary
McAninch, who manages ODA's Nursery and Christmas Tree
programs and supervises the team of inspectors. "Our
inspection and certification is part of the equation that
maintains that reputation."
Read artcile on KTVZ.com
Written by KTVZ Newsources
Wednesday, November 01, 2017