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Christmas tree prices spiking statewide amid holiday shortage

As families pile into the car this weekend and head out to pick the perfect Christmas tree, they better brace themselves for sticker shock.
Christmas tree prices have spiked this year, in part because of a tree shortage that has its roots in the Great Recession. The recent spate of hurricanes — even Christmas tree farmers pivoting to pot — are other factors driving up prices.
Tanaka Farms employee Donna Okuda spruces up a tree at the Irvine location. (Cindy Yamanaka, Orange County Register/SCNG)Irvine’s Tanaka Farms sells a variety of trees in different price ranges. (Photo by Cindy Yamanaka, Orange County Register/SCNG)Tanaka Farms seasonal employee Trish Moe walks through a sea of trees at the Irvine farm Mon., Nov. 17. (Cindy Yamanaka, Orange County Register/SCNG)Farmers planted fewer tree in 2008’s recession. (Cindy Yamanaka, Orange County Register/SCNG)This young couple walk past the Christmas trees towards a winter wonderland rendering at Irvine’s Tanaka Farms Monday, Nov. 17, 2017. (Cindy Yamanaka, Orange County Register/SCNG)Tanaka Farms employee Donna Okuda is surrounded by Christmas trees at the Irvine farm Monday, Nov. 17, 2017. (Cindy Yamanaka, Orange County Register/SCNG)Tanaka Farms employees Trish Moe, left, and Donna Okuda decorate a Christmas tree at the Irvine farm. (Cindy Yamanaka, Orange County Register/SCNG)Tanaka Farms seasonal employee Trish Moe walks through a sea of tress at the Irvine farm Monday, Nov. 17, 2017. (Cindy Yamanaka, Orange County Register/SCNG)Christmas tree are ready for buyers at Tanaka Farms in Irvine. (Cindy Yamanaka, Orange County Register/SCNG)Show Caption of Expand
For several years beginning in 2007, cash-strapped families bought fewer trees, meaning Christmas tree farmers brought in less revenue and planted fewer trees. The number of growers in the Pacific Northwest Christmas Tree Association dropped from 524 members in 2009 to 275 members this year.
And since Christmas trees grow about a foot a year, the smaller crop of recession-era trees are just now hitting tree lots throughout the state.
“It is truly a shortage,” said Shelly Holloway, whose family runs Honey Bear Trees in San Mateo and Redwood City.
Honey Bear usually gets its trees from Oregon and Washington, but this year it was forced to look as far away as Wisconsin.
“It’s definitely more difficult to get the Noble firs, and it has raised the wholesale price for us,” she said.
All 50 states grow Christmas trees, but Oregon is the top producer. And, this year, the Beaver State is facing an especially short supply, a trend that’s touching tree sellers as far south as Southern California.
Snowy Pines on Pacific Coast Highway in Long Beach is trying to stay competitive, price-wise, but the shortage means the lot is getting a fraction of its usual annual supply.  The lot’s signature offering — Silvertip pines — are down 70 percent this year. As a result, prices are up about 10 percent, said Claudia Thacker, who co-owns Snowy Pines with her husband.
“It has impacted everybody,” Thacker said. “We’re down a bit.”
Some customers, like Mick Thomas of Seal Beach, noticed the price jump but are willing to pay more for a top notch tree.
“They are getting more expensive,” Thomas said. “But the traditions run deeper than the wallet.”
Lyra Marble, who owns Mr. Green Trees in Los Angeles, said she’s raised prices by up to $10, or about 8 percent. But, in some ways, the shortage is helping.
“We are getting calls from customers from 20 years ago… who can’t find trees,” Marble said. “One of my farmers shorted me 300 trees at the last minute. They didn’t put them on the truck because he just found he didn’t have them.”
She doesn’t think conditions will improve next season.
“It will probably be worse next year,” Marble said. “I expect prices to go up considerably.”
But the Great Recession hangover isn’t the industry’s only challenge. Sarah Macy, who organizes tree sales for St. Lawrence Academy in Northern California, tried to purchase Grand firs from a farmer in Oregon, but was told there was no inventory because a heat wave had “fried the trees.”
Some farms were also hit by the five-year drought that ended last winter. The lack of water weakened the trees and stunted their growth.
The shortages, however, have thinned down down the number of tree lots, forcing more customers to the lots that have opened. Jim Hosler, who runs the Boy Scouts of America Troop 235 tree lot in Tustin has seen booming business.
“I have people coming in from Yorba Linda,” Hosler said.
Another factor wreaking havoc — hurricanes.
Truckers who most years are hauling Christmas trees out of the Pacific Northwest during the holiday season are, this year, in the South, providing aid to hurricane-ravaged areas of Texas and Louisiana. That, in turn, is delaying deliveries.
Macy was left scrambling for volunteers to help offload trees on the morning of Thanksgiving Day when a shipment that had been slated to arrive three days earlier finally showed up.
Holloway said she’s been dealing with the same issue. Trucks that used to cost her $3,000 to hire now cost $4,000.
Still, Doug Hundley, a spokesman for the Colorado-based National Christmas Tree Association, said the tradition of picking out and decorating a real tree remains solid with many families.
That sentiment might be sincere, but it’s also strategic. While Americans have been buying real Christmas trees for around 75 years, Hundley said, the artificial tree industry has taken off in the last 25 years or so.
While 25-30 million real trees go into homes each holiday season, sales of artificial trees have risen to roughly 10 million a year. And since people use artificial trees for five or more years, Hundley said, the rise of fake trees has translated into about 50 million fewer live trees being sold.
“It’s a big deal,” he said. “They’ve come on strong.”
But, he warned, the fake trees “are going to be in landfills forever.” Real trees, on the other hand, go right back into the soil and are grown by 4,000-5,000 small family farms in the United States.
“This is not corporate farming,” he said, adding that the trees are “a labor-intensive crop.”
If Christmas tree farmers let trees grow naturally, he said, they’d look nothing like what families have come to expect. Farmers put in hours of work shearing the trees every year, holding back their vertical growth so they turn thick and sturdy.
But all that work isn’t necessarily appealing to younger generations, and the number of Christmas tree farms is dropping. Many farmers are retiring and their children aren’t always interested in continuing the family business, Hundley said.
And in Oregon, at least, they have a less labor-intensive, more lucrative option: growing marijuana. It’s something California tree farmers soon could consider.
“It is very profitable,” Oregon tree farmer Tom Dean told ABC7 News. “Some of our neighbors are making quite a bit of money… It’s not near the work this is.”
There aren’t any good statistics on how many Christmas tree farmers have turned to cannabis.
Hundley, though, is skeptical that the trend is real.
“I’ve not heard of that,” he said. “Christmas tree farmers are pretty much oldtimers.”
Source: Oc Register

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