Oregon has been the top Christmas tree producer in the country for decades. But since the recession, much loved trees like Noble and Douglas Firs have been in short supply, and prices have skyrocketed.
Several factors are responsible for the problems facing the industry: labor scarcities and extreme weather conditions, for example. Plus, there are fewer growers, so not as many trees are being planted.
According to the Oregon Department of Agriculture, harvest and sales of trees decreased 26% in 2015 compared to 2010. Ten years ago, the Pacific Northwest was home to more than 900 growers. Today, the number has dropped to 400.
Christmas Tree Value of Sales, Number of Trees Sold, and Average Price per Tree, by Size of Operation (acres) — Oregon: 2010 and 2015 (Source: United States Department of Agriculture)
“Revenues are definitely down,” said McKenzie “Ken” Cook, CEO and owner of McKenzie Farms, one of the largest Christmas tree businesses in the United States. Most of the tree farms in the Pacific Northwest are family-owned or operated.
McKenzie Farms, which has 197 fields on its Estacada property, ships about 800,000 trees per year. Despite the industry shortages, Cook expects to ship more trees this year than last year.
“As a business, we are in good standing,” Cook said. “But as an industry, we are hurting.”
According to the USDA, Christmas tree growers nationwide struggle with land management, unpredictable weather and unreliable commercial markets.
Other factors play a role in the sector's decline. The average growing time for a six-foot tree is seven years. Because of the long growing cycle, farms struggle to stay in business. Oregon growers today are shifting to other crops like hazelnuts, which command a higher price and yield a steadier flow of income.
“People are going broke,” said Charlie Grogan, owner of Silver Bells Tree Farm in Silverton, a Christmas tree farm that has been business for 40 years. “We used to have an abundant supply for years; then, all of a sudden, growers went out of business.”
Is Oregon’s Christmas tree industry going the way of the state’s fading strawberry empire?
The industry is shrinking, but Christmas trees are still one of the state’s major commodities, said Bruce Pokarney, Oregon DOA’s director of communications.
“I suspect that [the industry] will survive any dips in terms of less production and few growers,” Pokarney said. “Businesses are pretty good responding to the challenges and are more in tune with what the consumer wants these days.”
Rachel Ramirez is an Oregon Business intern.