Wildfires will affect California Christmas tree business for years — and it'll cost you

The Christmas tree harvest was impacted by wildfires, floods and extreme weather in Oregon.|

Consumers should prepare to pay more than usual for live and fake Christmas trees this year because of climate change and supply chain issues, according to the American Christmas Tree Association.

The real Christmas tree harvest was impacted by wildfires, floods and extreme weather in Oregon, which is the number one producer of Christmas trees in the nation and where many West Coast sellers buy their trees.

As a result, the season is expected to have a limited number of trees at a higher cost.

"I think there will be a Christmas tree for everyone who wants a Christmas tree, but there are less of them on the market," said Jami Warner, the executive director of the American Christmas Tree Association.

It takes six to 10 years to grow a Christmas tree to maturity, according to Oregon Agriculture in the Classroom Foundation. So if the crops' sealings have been damaged because of drought and wildfires, it's going to impact the real tree crop for several years.

For example, California wildfires have wiped out thousands of giant sequoias and more intense fires fueled by climate change and worsening drought have plagued California forests in recent years, according to the National Park Service.

Fires also closed out areas of some popular Christmas tree-cutting forests.

Supply chain issues and higher costs

According to a 2020 U.S. Department of Agriculture Services report, climate change was already having an impact on the Christmas tree industry.

The USDA report, which compares holiday tree sales in 2015 to those in 2020, confirms a trend: In five years, the acreage growing Christmas trees dropped 24% and the total number of trees sold fell 27%.

Over the five years, the average cost of Oregon trees — which are primarily sold on the West Coast — nearly doubled, from about $18 to about $31 each.

Davis Ranch, located east of Sacramento in Sloughhouse, only got about 200 noble fir trees from Oregon this year at about $64 each, the most expensive Davis Ranch partner Rick Grimshaw has seen. The consumer absorbs some of that cost at the retail price of $120 for a typical 8-foot tree.

Grimshaw thanks supply chain demands for the influx in price.

"Now that supply is short, demand is high...the price goes through the roof," Grimshaw said. "Every year it creeps up, it usually creeps up a few dollars, this year it crept up $5 — that's quite a bit over the other years."

Trees that are being shipped far away are normally cut down with a chainsaw and wrapped to protect the limbs. Some large farms in Oregon use helicopters to transfer the cut trees from where they were growing to the trucks to be shipped off, according to the Oregon Agriculture in the Classroom Foundation.

But because of several months of shipping disruptions largely due to the pandemic — port congestion, shipping containers and labor shortages have caused delays for all types of products including real and artificial holiday trees.

"Farmers are shipping less supply to market and they are having trouble finding trucks to ship those trees as well," Warner, with the American Christmas Tree Association, said.

Both real and artificial Christmas trees are expected to see a price increase of between 10% to 30% — and while most of those costs are being absorbed by the growers, producers and retailers — consumers should expect to pay a little more at checkout, Warner said.

"We have a lot of empathy for growers, some of which have been doing this generation after generation," she said. "It's a tough way to make a living but they do bring a lot of joy to people...and certainly after the last couple of years that we've all experienced — we need as much joy in our lives as possible.

Here's what you need to know about choosing the right tree, where to buy a live tree and some of the Black Friday deals on artificial trees ahead of the holidays:

Real vs. fake Christmas trees

Thanksgiving weekend is the traditional start of the Christmas tree buying season and Warner said if you're interested in a real tree, that is the time to go out and buy one. If you're looking for a live tree, buy early and right away.

"It's going to take a little bit more savvy consumerism this Christmas but Christmas is definitely not canceled," she said. "Anyone who wants a Christmas tree and wants to celebrate Christmas with a Christmas tree will be able to find something."

Traditionally, real trees cost less than artificial trees, averaging $104 for an artificial and $79 for a real one, according to the American Christmas Tree Association.

But there are long-term cost savings associated with an artificial tree, with trees lasting an average of 10 years and up to 20 years for high-quality artificial trees.

If you plan to buy a live tree, check for freshness by making sure the tree still has that sappy, earthy smell. Also, check the tree for the presence of pests because they can trigger allergic reactions.

Lastly, be sure to saw off an additional half an inch of woof from the base of the tree trunk once you're home to help preserve the tree through the holidays.

If you plan on purchasing an artificial tree, consider online reviews, the appearance of the trees and accommodating storage space in the home once it is time to put the tree away.

But before buying a tree, real or artificial, measure the space where the tree will go including height, width and depth. And bring a tape measure with you while shopping to compare.

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