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US to face major Christmas tree shortages until ‘at least 2025’ | Canadian growers set to fill the gap

US to face major Christmas tree shortages until ‘at least 2025’ | Canadian growers set to fill the gap

Wildfires, drought and seedling shortages deliver a triple-whammy to the US home-grown Christmas tree market

As the 2017 harvest season approaches, US Christmas tree producers are facing up to the fact that there will be a definite shortage of homegrown trees this year – and for a considerable period in the foreseeable future too. Canadian Christmas tree producers are gearing up to fill the gap.

In the case of the Pacific Northwest region, Christmas tree supplies have been hit by a combination of problems. A glut of trees in previous years saw a spike in the number of US producers leaving the tree-growing industry after prices fell dramatically. The Oregon Department of Agriculture published data showing that between 2010 and 2015, the number of active tree growers dropped by more than 30%, from 699 to 485.

The abundant supply producers have come to expect just won’t happen this year, and a lack of available quality seedlings means that the shortage of popular-size Christmas trees will most likely continue through to 2025 at least.

According to a survey undertaken by USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), tree sales in Oregon have plummeted 26%, from 6.4 million trees to 4.7 million trees; furthermore, US farmers have been planting fewer Christmas trees than ever before, with about 3.7 million trees planted in 2015 – down from 5.6 million in 2010 NASS reported.

The shortages began to bite during the 2016 season when growers oversold supplies and were forced to harvest trees from their 2017 allocation in order to honor their commitments, magnifying their shortages from that point on. Experts are already predicting 2017 inventories “will be tighter”, with some preferred species’ size availability down by as much as 40%-50%.

It is expected that there will be immense pressure for retailers to secure their supplies early, with Christmas Tree Associations actively encouraging customers to perform their due diligence well in advance and get the results of their species, size, price, and quality comparisons early.

Elsewhere, eight drought-riddled Southeastern states were stripped of more than 119,000 acres of festive pine trees as intense fires ripped through the dry forests there. Some fires destroyed a few acres, whereas another, particularly relentless fire, raged for an entire month and destroyed 72 acres in northern Georgia.

As the wildfires raged on, Adam Rondeau, of The South Coordination Center in Atlanta said, “The lower humidity and significant lack of precipitation for more than three months have made a perfect environment for fires to spread.”

One concerned grower cautioned that when a wildfire passes through the trees, it can take between twelve and fifteen years for production to be close to full capacity again.

Mr. Rondeau added that Tennessee, Kentucky, Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Alabama suffered 50 major fires, burning more than 100 acres each between October and November 2016. An earlier fire in July in Big Sur, south of San Francisco, ravaged 132,00 acres.

One major issue in the aftermath of two such critical events such as drought and wildfire is how to aid the recovery of the trees, which will be stressed and thirsty. The Fraser fir is a hardy tree that can withstand dry spells, but it needs clean mountain air to achieve optimal growth; if severe drought conditions continue in the US throughout 2017, growers could lose more trees as a result.

A GWD spokesman commented, “We have been aware of this shortage, which began in 2016, from the outset as we were already exploring other, lucrative outlets to sell GWD Forestry Christmas trees into the US market. Miami was already under serious consideration as a possible entry point due to its wealthy population, who still prefer to buy real trees from traditional Christmas tree lots. We spoke to many retailers who were already struggling to find quality suppliers to fulfill their orders. Historically, the sellers have mainly dealt in Noble Fir and Blue Spruce tree species, yet they conceded that Fraser and Balsam firs are enormously popular in the US, too, and they would be happy to sell our trees in the coming years if they are made available to them. The tree-sellers told us they have also noticed an across-the-board price rise of approximately 10% in wholesale and retail prices after many years of recession-led cheaper trees. We believe that GWD Forestry is in an excellent position this year to supply the southern states from our well-stocked farms, and the company is vigorously investing time and effort into expanding sales in the Miami area for 2017.”

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