If you’ve noticed fewer stores are selling Christmas trees, it’s because North America is now in its fourth year of shortages, according to the Canadian Christmas Trees Association.
The shortfall is due to a mix of factors, says Shirley Brennan, the executive director of Christmas Tree Farmers of Ontario and the Canadian Christmas Trees Association.
“It’s not just a Canadian issue. It is a North American issue. It started about four years ago, and we saw it with Fraser firs,” she said.
From there, she says, things snowballed as the industry saw a large surge in the demand for its products.
“In North America, a Christmas tree farmer, their plan is a 10-year plan, because that’s how long it takes for a tree to grow. So having that increase in demand over those five years, such an increase in demand, we certainly could not have forecasted that.”
At the same time, less land is being used for Christmas tree farming, she said. Between 2011 and 2021, almost 20,000 acres of Christmas tree farming land was taken out of production across the country.
Finally, the weather has had an impact. In Ontario, for example, there was this summer’s drought, while Western Canada last year saw a heat dome and flooding.
“It doesn’t necessarily mean that trees aren’t growing, but it’s taking more time. So, with extreme drought, you may not have seen the growth that you would typically see. That may be a tree that takes two to three years more to grow,” she said.
Peter Grobe started Grobe’s Nursery outside Breslau with his father in the 1960s, and now runs it with his son Perry. He said he could see the shortage coming on for the last few years. He blames drought, lack of planting and the toll taken by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s not the first shortage I’ve seen in my lifetime. But I’ve never seen it to a point where there wasn’t any,” he said of his 60 years in the business.
He says the trees available are of lesser quality, or just not available at all. Premium-grade just doesn’t exist anymore, he says.
Phillippe Bertrand is the group commissioner for the 1st Elmira Scouts, who sell Christmas trees to help offset costs for the likes of camping trips and supplies.
“There are less types of trees [available] because we still have the tree planting shortage that took place many years ago,” said Bertrand.
All together it means that trees are getting more expensive.
“Across Canada, trees are up about 10 per cent this year,” said Brennan, noting rising prices are due not only to the shortage, but the fact input prices for farming are becoming more and more expensive as well. That includes everything from insurance to the cost of diesel fuel to run equipment.
The shortage also means that farmers and sellers are adapting their opening and closing dates for their seasons. And when it comes to filling wholesale orders, Brennan says that companies might order more trees, having sold out last year, “and we aren’t able to fill those additional numbers.”
“So we see that farms are closing the gates earlier, we’re seeing that they may have adjusted their opening weekend,” she added.
And how is the industry preparing for the future?
Brennan says that besides planting more trees, the Canadian Christmas Tree Association is also focusing on attracting more people to become Christmas tree farmers. It takes less land than people might think, she said, adding Christmas tree farming is something of a labour of love because the trees take ten years before they can be sold.