If the pain of inflation is already curtailing your holiday gift plans, be prepared to pay more to decorate, too.
The average cost of a Christmas tree is on the rise – like everything else this year – thanks to rising fuel, fertilizer and labor costs, climate change, rising rates of insurance and, according to many growers, a continent-wide shortage of trees.
“On average, across Canada, you’re going to see an increase of about 10%, and that’s just because of the expense it costs on the farm,” said Shirley Brennan, executive director of the Canadian Association of Christmas trees.
She says the cost of fertilizer alone has gone up about 25% over the past year. In some areas, farmers say it’s up to 50%.
Gasoline for the trucks that transport trees from wholesale farms to those big store lots or local pop-ups costs more. The same goes for fuel for farm machinery, and it is more expensive to insure the farm itself.
Some farms have seen their rates double, Brennan said. Others have seen increases of up to 35 percent.
“One of my Christmas tree growers used to tell me that it cost him $15,000 a year to insure his Christmas tree farm.”
All of these additional costs to farmers mean you pay more for your tree.
Still, business is booming.
“There must be a shortage,” said arborist George Powell, “because all kinds of people are calling us, wanting wholesale trees.”
Powell and his wife, Marianne, have been growing trees on their own farm in Bowmanville, Ontario for over 40 years.
They accidentally got into the business in 1980 when they bought 75 acres of what they thought was bushland east of Toronto.
“In the spring, when the snow melted, thousands of Christmas trees were planted, and I said, ‘Children, we’re going to be Christmas tree growers.'”
But a lot has changed in 40 years. Powell says there were 12 arborists in the area at the time. Now they are the only ones left. Seedlings cost 10 cents each. Now they are $1.50.
Fewer trees grown
Brennan says what was a $53 million industry in 2015 is now worth over $100 million. The latest figures from Statistics Canada place it at over $160 million.
But the number of trees burrowing into the ground is down.
In 2016, there were 1,872 Christmas tree farms in Canada. In 2021, there were 1,364.
Brennan says that over the past decade, Canada has lost about 20,000 acres of Christmas tree land — which could have grown some 30 million trees — to a variety of factors.
Canada also exports nearly half of the trees it produces.
Powell says he believes the shortage can be traced to 2008, when the financial crisis took its toll on farmers. Many couldn’t afford to plant that many trees that year, and given that it takes 15 years to grow one from seed, those effects are being felt now.
Climate change and extreme weather events are also affecting crops.
“Drought is always a big problem with seedlings,” Powell said, as his farm is only irrigated by rainfall. “There are far too many seedlings to irrigate. So we have to take a chance.”
Last year they lost about 15% of their seedlings, which is about average.
“Some years we don’t lose any and some years we lose almost all of them,” Powell said.
Paul Huesken says a chronic shortage of Christmas trees in British Columbia is driving up costs in his province.
“There are a number of factors to this,” said the arborist and president of the BC Christmas Tree Association, including farmers retiring, people selling their farms, the prohibitive price of farmland and the geography.
British Columbia, he notes, ranges from “beautiful valleys to rugged mountains — and there’s not a lot of that marginal farmland in between like you get in Oregon or Washington.”
A beloved Christmas tree species, the noble fir, will cost between $16 and $19 per foot in the Vancouver area this year, he says. For a top-of-the-line eight-foot Nordman tree, you can expect to pay between $160 and $200.
The weather is also always a problem.
British Columbia largely recovered from the damage caused by its 2021 heating dome, but was hit by massive flooding a few months later. There was a devastating frost in Nova Scotia in 2018 – which affected not only young trees, but also mature trees – and a similar late frost in eastern Ontario and western Quebec in 2020 And while this year has been exceptionally dry in central Canada, it was quite the opposite in Manitoba three years ago.
It was a “very wet year here in Manitoba,” 2019 said Dan Friesen, owner of Timber Trails Tree Farm near Steinbach, Manitoba.
“We entered an extremely wet winter and had a lot of winterkill on our farm,” he said. “We lost a good percentage of our spruce crop.”
Friesen says the loss didn’t hurt him then, but it does now.
“We had a lot of trees that we had lost at that time that we were going to cut down now. So, and unfortunately, they’re not there and it takes a long time to regrow them,” he said. declared.
Brennan says Mother Nature is every farmer’s silent partner, “and she’s not that silent.”
His advice to buyers this year: be prepared to step out of your comfort zone.
“You might not need that eight foot tree or that 10 foot tree that you normally get,” she said.
Brennan says demand for taller, shorter tabletop trees and trees — more conducive to smaller living spaces — is on the rise.
Despite the challenges, Powell says buying a Christmas tree brings out the best in people. He remembers a guy years ago showing up at 4 a.m. for a tree. Powell says by the time he got up and got dressed, the tree was down and the car was rolling back down the driveway.
“When I opened the front door, there was $60 on the ground that he paid for his tree.”
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