The Weathered Willow Tree Farm in Altamont (Photo by Jim Franco)
There is a shortage of Christmas trees this year thanks to, among other reasons, a number of domestic growers leaving the industry, a lack of quality seedlings, wildfires and even the last recession.
But, sellers and growers in upstate New York say they expect the direct impact to their businesses will be minimal because Canadian growers have been gearing up to fill the gap.
According to a survey undertaken by United State Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service tree sales in Oregon, the nation’s largest grower of Christmas trees, have dropped 26 percent, from 6.4 million trees to 4.7 million. Also, farmers across the nation have been planting fewer Christmas trees, with about 3.7 million trees planted in 2015 — down from 5.6 million in 2010.
Given that it takes an average of seven years to grow a Christmas tree to a desirable size, there are those who think the shortage will last until at least 2025.
What is bad news for some retailers, though, is good news for members of the Christmas Tree Farmers of Association of New York, who grow trees for retail and offer a chance for the public to come to their respective farms and cut their own tree.
To see a gallery of people looking for Christmas Trees click here.
“Some growers may have a shortage but we don’t have a problem here,” said Mary Jean Packer, the executive director of the 400-member association. “You can tell a tree from Oregon … they are the ones out in front of Home Depot shedding needles. It really breaks your heart to see all those needles but that’s what you get when you load them on a hot truck and ship them across the country.”
According to the National Christmas Tree Association, there are between 25 and 30 million Christmas trees sold in the U.S. every year.
Oregon leads the nation with nearly seven million grown per year followed by Michigan. New York is the eighth largest grower of Christmas trees with about 300,000 harvested, a significant drop, though, from the 618,000 in 2002.
According to the American Christmas Tree Association, more than 94 million U.S. households, or about 80 percent, will display a Christmas tree this year. Of those, 80 percent will have an artificial tree.
There is something to going out and finding a “perfect” real Christmas tree — either at a farm or a stand — compared to going to the mall and picking a fake one off a shelf.
“We walked the entire place and we found one with a perfect height and width and it’s just so pretty,” said Clifton Park resident Stephanie Bitter, who with her family just cut down a tree at the Weathered Willow Tree Farm on Old State Road in Altamont. “We’ve been coming here for seven years and we always get such good quality trees and it’s fun too.”
Earl McIntosh, the Weathered Willow proprietor, said his business isn’t impacted by any shortage of trees in Pacific Northwest. He admittedly doesn’t concern himself with it too much at all and started his farm as a way to celebrate the family’s favorite holiday and to relieve stress from his high pressure job as an administrator at Albany Medical Center Hospital.
“I can go out in the field and really be angry and I would get a knife, just like you see in the movies, and trim them up to release some stress,” he said near the entrance to his farm on Saturday, Nov. 25. “That’s why they are all the same shape and the same look. There is a standard I’ve always had but everyone likes what they like. So long as it helps people celebrate Christmas and everybody’s happy.”
He said he would probably sell 900 trees on that one day alone and may sell out by the following Sunday. Each year, though, it gets a little harder for him to keep it up and while the family does come out to help out selling the trees they don’t have the hours to put in on a daily basis.
“It takes so much work to replace all the trees that are cut every year and he is a one-man show,” said his daughter, Laurie Burleigh. “Planting and shearing the trees … it’s a lot of work.”
There are a few tree farms around the Capital District but there are a number of stands.
Peg Barkman, of Barkman Farms on 9W in Glenmont, said she is aware of the shortage of trees coming out of the Pacific Northwest.
“We’ve ordered extra trees this year so I know we will be OK, but we are not moving the prices up just because there is a shortage,” she said.
Ryan Kleinke Kitchen, who is selling trees for the first time said the lean harvest numbers from out west are not impacting his efforts because he got his from Canada.
“This is our first weekend and we didn’t have any problems that I know of,” he said while standing in a new retail space at his family farm on Kenwood Avenue of getting a shipment of trees. “This is our first weekend, and we are trying new things and implementing different ideas and expanding slowly.”
The Bethlehem Lions have been selling Christmas trees for 31 years, said Dan Ryan, co-chair of the Tree Sale Committee, and they have always gotten their trees from Canada.
“We just sold a tree to a guy who has a grandson who got one of our scholarships and we just arranged for a lady to get hearing aids and we are working with Voorheesville to get student a pair of glasses,” whatever we make goes back into the community and people are happy to support us.”