There’s an industry-wide shortage of Christmas trees this year.
Not if you are in the market for a five-foot Fraser fir, but there are few large trees or Noble firs, considered the best in the Christmas tree business.
“There are simply less and less growers in the market right now. There’s fewer family tree farms that are wanting to carry on because, frankly, it’s not a huge money maker in most cases,” said Wes Robinson, co-owner of the Alouette Tree Farm in Maple Ridge.
People who like fine Christmas trees will generally look for a Noble because they are a firmer, have stronger branches and they last longer in a heated house, Robinson explained.
“But the problem is, they are hard to grow. They take a long time to grow.”
The turn-around for a Noble fir takes eight to 10 years compared to the three to six it takes for a Douglas or grand fir, most common in the province.
“And the reason they are more common is the growing period is a more shorter period of time,” Robinson noted.
The Alouette Tree Farm is a small you-cut that has been part of the family business for over 20 years. But the family now finds itself one of the few left on this side of the Fraser River.
Robinson says the Christmas tree market is completely diversified across the country. In the east, the market services the American market. In British Columbia, though, there are more trees imported from the United States than are grown domestically.
“Historically, that’s the way it’s been. And most of those trees come up from Washington State and Oregon,” said Robinson.
Farmland down south is cheap, he added, and there is a great growing environment there, better climate conditions.
Growers that supply western Canada are growing fewer trees, he said.
“This is partly due to the fact there is a change in demographics. There are fewer wholesale trees that are open and functioning right now and less profitable in the industry, so fewer are being planted and fewer being harvested.”
Christmas trees have also become less profitable for big box stores. Those like Ikea and Home Depot would purchase fresh cut trees, price them low in the hopes of attracting customers into their stores.
“I would say for the late ‘90s and most of the early 2000s, one of the strategies that big boxes have used is loss leader. Let’s get them here for the Christmas tree, then let’s overcharge them on something else,” said Robinson, explaining that his business serves a different clientele.
“Our base business is giving people the opportunity to have an experience, not just to buy a tree. You come down and you get some free apple cider and you get a chance to sit around a fire and you get to cut your own tree, if you want,” Robinson said.
“That’s the niche we are in and that’s the niche we want to continue to serve.”
This year a majority of the trees on his farm are Fraser and grand firs. In the past, he brought in Nobles from a different farm. However, this year his Noble fir supplier was unable to supply him with any of the popular tree.
“So we do have some limited quantity of Nobles growing in our fields, but because they take a long time to grow, they are quite small,” said Robinson.
He has also brought in some eight-foot trees, but expects them to go quickly.
“We’ve got Fraser’s available. We’ve got lots of Grands available. We have virtually no Nobles and virtually no Douglas firs either,” continued Robinson.
The Fraser fir is defined by shorter stronger branch and good needle retention and is second only to the Noble when it comes to longevity.
The grand fir is more defined by a flat needle. Needle retention is not as good as the Noble, but they are still a tree that is popular because of the fragrance.
“They are the true smell of Christmas,” said Robinson.
In general, though, he increasingly sees more people walking away with a five-foot tree because living spaces are becoming more compact.
“They are easy to handle, easy to decorate and the dog is not going to knock it over.”
• The Alouette Tree Farm is open Dec. 7 from noon to 5:30 p.m. and Dec. 8 to 10 from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. and from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Dec. 15 to 17.
For more information, go to alouettechristmastreefarm.com or call 604-467-0100.