Christmas tree sales falter under weak demand
U.S.-grown Fraser fir trees hurting exports for New Brunswick Christmas tree growers
Some Christmas tree growers are being forced to drastically cut their shipments to the United States because of cost pressures brought on by a strong Canadian dollar and the increasing popularity of a U.S.-grown tree.
David Kirkpatrick, the owner of Lo-Hi Farm, said 2012 is shaping up to be a rough year for many people in the sector.
Most of the trees on his Fredericton-area lot are destined for export, mainly to the northeastern United States, which has traditionally been a hot market for balsam fir trees.
But Kirkpatrick said this year he is delivering about 1,500 trees, which is half of what he exported to the United States in 2011.
"It's at the worst as far as shipping trees across the border," he said.
Part of the problem, he said, is the New England market is being overwhelmed with Fraser fir trees, which are being grown in the Carolinas.
The Fraser fir tree is similar to the balsam fir, but it is considered to be less fragrant by some in the industry.
"They are shipping a lot of Fraser fir and it’s just really flooded the market and put the price down of the trees," he said.
Chris Dickie, the executive director of Infor, an independent agency that works with tree growers in the province, said the Fraser fir has always been a competitor but not to this extent.
"Carolina has been in the industry for quite a number of years, but they went on a real planting binge eight to 10 years ago," he said.
"So now we're seeing all the fruits of those planting efforts coming into the marketplace."
Dickie said the industry injects up to $30-million into rural economies and directly and indirectly employs about 5,500 people.
But the overabundance of U.S. trees is not the only problem being faced by provincial growers.
Dickie said the strong Canadian dollar is hurting the export opportunities for many tree growers.
He said it is not possible to hold off on cutting trees and save them for another season when it could be more profitable for them.
"We might cut less than we should be cutting, but it's very hard to hold a Christmas tree because trees grow every single year and not a lot of people have 14-foot ceilings," he said.