'There's always a Christmas,' says tree grower in face of proclaimed shortage

The hunt for the perfect Christmas tree may be a bit trickier this year but Albertans will still have options for their ornaments.

Lots of trees to go around in Alberta despite U.S. industry difficulties, Shirley Brennan says

Natural Christmas trees, like this one in the CBC Thunder Bay lobby, are sought-after this season due to difficulties in the industry in the United States. (Cathy Alex/CBC)

The hunt for the perfect Christmas tree may be a bit trickier this year but Albertans will still have options for their ornaments.

"There's always a Christmas," Shirley Brennan, executive director of the Canadian Christmas Tree Growers Association, told the Calgary Eyeopener this week.

"It's a time for your family but it's also a time to just live like that kid again as opposed to, you know, the stress and everything that we live in in today's society."

The U.S. is seeing fewer ready-to-harvest Christmas trees this season after planting fewer seedlings following the 2007 financial crisis, and also after two years of drought, she said.

That also means Canadian producers are having to export more south of the border.

Of the 8 million Christmas trees sold in Canada each year, about 1.6 million are imported from the United States, Brennan said.

Those difficulties in the States have been reflected in significantly higher prices in Alberta as compared with Ontario.

Brennan spoke with Calgary Eyeopener host David Gray.

Q: Do we have any kind of a shortage here in Canada?

A: We don't really have a shortage. There's enough trees for everyone to have a tree, and I know the fear over the last couple of days is that it has to be a Charlie Brown tree. No, we've got beautiful trees.

The difference is, if you're used to getting a certain tree, you may have difficulty getting that tree. But we have lots of trees.

Q: The notion that there's a tree shortage in Canada is about as absurd a notion as I can ever imagine. But I understand that Christmas trees are a certain kind of tree, people fall in love with whatever the shape of the tree is they had when they were kids. Is that what happens?

A: Well, it's that, and as new families and new people come into the industry, our industry, and enjoy it, they get species they want. We have trees that retain their needles now. I's not like when I was a kid and you know, they dropped really quickly.

We have skinny trees. We have mini trees. We have anything that our customers demand exactly.

Canadian Christmas tree farmers are raising prices as much as 10 per cent this year. (Province of Prince Edward Island)

So what's happening is, if you typically have a certain tree, like let's say, a noble fir. That seems to be the one that everyone's talking about, a shortage in noble fir, because a lot of those are shipped up from the States.

And so every province is different.

In Alberta and B.C. and Ontario, they primarily are U-Cut. You go to a farm and you cut your own tree down. Or they supply retailers in their own provinces. In Quebec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, they primarily export.

Q: The noble firs we get in Calgary, I guess they come up from Washington State. Is that one of the areas where there's an issue right now?

A: Yes it is. It seems to be everyone keeps talking about the noble firs. That seems to be the issue on the West Coast that is the going concern. But there's other firs: there's Douglas fir, there's Fraser fir.

It's not that you're not going to get a fir tree. You just might not get the noble.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

With files from the Calgary Eyeopener