British Columbia

Christmas tree shortage grows across West Coast — and its roots go back a decade

Getting the perfect Christmas tree is going to be trickier than usual this year, with both growers and sellers warning of an increasing shortage of the festive foliage.

Economic downturn in 2008 and weather patterns to blame, says experts

Part of the problem is the length of time it takes for a Christmas tree to grow to maturity. (Cathy Alex/CBC)

Getting the perfect Christmas tree is going to be trickier than usual this year, with both growers and sellers warning of an increasing shortage of the festive foliage. 

Shirley Brennan, the executive director of the Canadian Christmas Tree Growers' Association, says the root of the problem stretches back a decade.

"We can't keep up with the demand," she told Gloria Macarenko, the host of CBC's On The Coast. 

Christmas tree farming increased from a $53 million industry in 2008 to a $100 million dollar industry in 2019 — something growers hadn't predicted.

"It takes 10 years to grow a tree," she said. 

"When the demand is up, we just can't plant them fast enough."

'It's not all negative'

Brennan pointed to events in 2008 — like the recession that put a damper on consumer demands — and abnormally warm and wet weather conditions in the following years that damaged the trees that had been planted. 

"We're feeling the impact of things that have happened in the last decade," she said. 

"But it's not all negative, because our industry has worked really hard to get a good product out there and it shows with the demand that's up."

Tim Loewen, who owns Pine Meadows Tree Farms in Chilliwack, says part of the problem is the length of time it takes from first planting a tree to selling it during the holidays. 

"It takes such a long time to produce that it's really hard to predict the market and to adapt to changes in the market so you just end up with this once in a while," he said. 

It's not just a B.C. problem, according to Loewen. He's been approached by tree retailers in the U.S. for the first time because of a lack of supply across the border too. 

"Typically, there's no chance that we can compete with the Oregon growers to sell a tree to California but, this year, they would have been happy to buy off us if we had them," he said. 

The general consensus among Christmas tree experts? Buy a tree sooner rather than later or risk being left with only artificial ones. 

Ken Schrauwen, with the Art Knapp in Port Coquitlam, says his store was bustling over the weekend with crowds looking to buy trees trees while they're still available. He's optimistic there will be a tree for everyone who wants one despite the shortage. 

"I think they'll find a Christmas tree, but I don't think they're going to find exactly what they want or the variety that they want," he said. 

Getting the perfect Christmas tree is going to be trickier than usual this year, with both growers and sellers warning of an increasing shortage of the festive foliage. 6:03

With files from On The Coast

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