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Christmas trees may be in short supply this holiday season

Published: Nov. 12, 2021 at 2:54 PM CST
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(CNN) - People who celebrate Christmas usually think about trimming the turkey before trimming the tree, but they may want to act faster this holiday season.

Christmas tree farmers across the country anticipate another busy season, and that could collide with recent supply challenges.

Christmas trees are never far from Joncie Underwood’s mind.

“It’s surprising how many people do think that you put them in the ground in the spring and you’re going to harvest them, you know, November, December,” she said. “It doesn’t work that way.”

At her family farm, Pine Valley Christmas Trees, in the northeast corner of Maryland, the journey from planting seedlings in the fields to a family’s living room is a long one.

“Once you plant them out, depending on the type of tree, it may take 6 to 10 years before you have a sellable tree,” Underwood said.

Too much water, too little, pests - a lot can happen in the time it takes for trees to mature. It also means farmers like Underwood can’t simply ramp up supply when demand spikes.

“Because it takes 7 to 10 years for your crop to mature, you don’t have much choice about how many trees you can offer,” she said.

More Americans stayed home for the holidays in 2020 because of the pandemic, so Christmas trees were in high demand.

Some sellers found themselves short, a consequence of the Great Recession more than a decade ago that put a lot of farmers out of business.

“We were actually about sold out on the third of December,” said Carl Holloway, owner of Holloway’s Christmas Trees. “We had another load of trees come in, and it was gone in a day and a half.”

In southern California, Holloway said he plants about 3,000 trees per year on the farm his father started in 1958.

“We grow a Monterrey Pine, which is a beautiful tree, but a lot of people would rather have what they grew up with as children,” he said.

His crops are fighting challenges like the California drought. Holloway brings in about half the trees he sells each year, mostly balsam and grand firs from the Pacific Northwest, where tree crops have also been hit hard by fires and extreme heat.

For example, in Oregon, one of the country’s top Christmas tree producers, farmers only cut and sold 3.44 million trees in 2020, down 27% from 2015, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“Because of that, and because of labor shortages and other things, the price of the trees has gone up, at least 100% in the last 10 years,” Holloway said.

All of the factors are affecting Holloway’s bottom line.

For both farmers, however, a hectic holiday season is a family tradition.

“I love when our customers come in and they say, ‘You know, my child was a baby when I first started coming here.’ And now they’re bringing their children or their grandchildren,” Underwood said.

Those deep roots may be a reason to appreciate a tree a little more this year.

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