Business

In the market for a Christmas tree? Prices might be a bit higher this year as demand soars

Like some Thanksgiving staples and so many other things since the pandemic outbreak, Christmas trees may cost a little more this year. 

The American Christmas Tree Association says, while pricing may differ from retailer to retailer, live tree costs have nearly doubled compared to prices from 2015 and artificial Christmas tree retailers have raised prices 20-30%.

“The economic instability caused by COVID-19 and the impacts of extreme weather have affected all parts of the global and U.S. supply chain, and Christmas trees are no exception,” the ACTA says on its website. “These challenges mean that there will be fewer live and artificial Christmas trees available this year, and those that are available will cost more than before.”

According to the ACTA, the price hikes are the result of a combination of factors — extreme weather events in the Pacific Northwest and Midwest, supply chain congestion and shipping container shortages. Plus, demand is rising.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture anticipates nearly 13.9 million trees will be cut and sold ahead of the upcoming holiday, as compared to a little over 13.5 million last year.

“When I was at the Christmas Tree Growers Association in Pennsylvania this summer, they told all Christmas tree farms to expect 40% more people this year,” said Stacey Soloviev, owner of Santa’s Christmas Tree Farm in Cutchogue. “There is a shortage, you know, from before, people not planting as much [in previous years]. And we’re kind of seeing that hit now, because it takes seven to 10 years for a mature tree. I think a lot were planted in the last four years, but we won’t see a surplus for a few more years.”

There likely won’t be a shortage of the Christmas trees grown on Long Island, such as Douglas firs, but farmers said it’s more difficult to obtain Fraser firs — one of the more popular types of Christmas trees, and a species that doesn’t typically grow on the island. 

“We have plenty of trees in the ground of our own trees,” said Joe Shipman, owner of Shamrock Christmas Tree Farm in Mattituck. “We are going to be short on trees brought in from other farms, other species of trees. There’s a certain species of tree that’s high in demand, which is the Fraser fir. The Fraser fir does not grow on Long Island, so you’re forced to grow Douglas fir.”

While his farm has a “great supply” of Douglas firs, they’re running short on Fraser trees; many wholesalers that grow Fraser firs are either going out of business or switching to retail operations because the supply of labor is so low, he said. 

Lewin Farms in Calverton, which grows all its own trees, doesn’t expect to see shortages at all. 

“Hopefully it’ll be a good year for us because we don’t have a shortage of trees ourselves,” owner Erick Lewin said. “We grow over 100 acres and we were a little short a few years ago, because we had some plantings that didn’t grow very well, but since then, we have a real full crop now and probably should going forward, because all the new trees we’ve been planting the last seven or so years are all doing really well and we got tons of acres to choose from this year.”

Dart’s Christmas Tree Farm in Southold, on the other hand, has seen a rush on trees so far this year. Owner Ed Dart said last year, the farm sold out before the end of the season.

“I expect that will happen again for two reasons. One, we’re a small place so we hardly ever have enough anyway. Number two, it’s very difficult to source any trees from any wholesale growers to supplement what we grow,” he said. Garden centers, fire departments and other organizations that usually sell Christmas trees have been calling his farm about purchasing wholesale.

“The usual places where Long Island families would go to buy Christmas trees are unable to find their products and so they’re even calling me, who doesn’t even have enough trees in the first place. So I guess it’s real. But also, we’re gaining in popularity because of our uniqueness,” he added.

A staffer at Shamrock Christmas Tree Farm in Cutchogue helps a customer move a freshly cut tree last Friday, the unofficial start of the season. The farm was forced to open more than an hour earlier than usual that morning due to a long line of cars waiting to enter. (Credit: Grant Parpan)

Dart’s has become renowned for its colorful Christmas trees, which has proven a draw for many families, even those who don’t plan to buy one. The Christmas tree farm is also one of the only places on Long Island, according to Mr. Dart, that grows its own Fraser firs. 

“I wouldn’t say we’re out yet, but it was a heavy crowd coming, because of the stories of shortages and so forth. We were selling Christmas trees before Thanksgiving,” he said. 

The ACTA reports that on average, although prices vary from retailer to retailer, live trees cost $78 and artificial trees cost $104. Some North Fork farmers said they’ve had to modestly raise prices — although not significantly, they emphasized. Lewin Farms has not raised prices from last year at all. 

“Our prices went up five bucks … so we’re not beating anyone up, but the trees that we’re bringing in are going to be way high because there’s a shortage of truckers,” Mr. Shipman said. “The pre-cut trees are going to be probably the highest that I’ve ever seen since I’ve been doing this.”

Shamrock’s Christmas Tree Farm is trying to hold prices, but “on the other end, we’re getting beat to death,” he added. “We’re getting calls from as far as Virginia for wholesale trees. We’re not a wholesale business … so that tells me there’s a shortage from here to Oregon and back again.”

Ms. Soloviev said she’s been able to purchase the same amount of trees every year, thanks to a “very good friend upstate New York,” and she’s been able to help several other farms purchase trees as well. “If we have more people this year, obviously I’ll run out, but so far, we’re in a pretty good position,” she said. 

The cost for a Fraser fir has nearly doubled though, she said. She’s also trying to hold off on raising prices — she’s only charging “a little bit more” — and doesn’t anticipate a profit on trees this year. 

Between price hikes and labor shortages, “it’s really hard for small business,” Ms. Soloviev said. “I hope that people have patience and understanding. Everybody’s really doing the best they can.”

Mr. Dart emphasized that the reason many people visit Christmas tree farms is for the experience. 

“It’s our 50th year [of being in business],” he said. “I think the very first innovative thing we did was to be a destination farm in the first place.”

Christmas tree farmers emphasized the agritainment options at their venues this winter, ranging from pony and train rides to pictures with Santa and “glice” skating on synthetic ice. 

The ACTA says most U.S. consumers will be able to find Christmas trees this year, but cautions against waiting. “Plan ahead, and buy early,” it says.