Why it may be harder to find that perfect Christmas tree this year

Increased demand, the ravages of Mother Nature and the 2008 recession have all played a role in creating a Christmas tree shortage across North America.

North America faces shortage due in part to rising demand

The tree shortage hitting Christmas tree lots across the continent has been 10 years in the making, industry experts say. (Bruce Smith/The Associated Press)

Christmas tree lots have started popping up around the city, but Christmas tree farmers are putting out a warning: get your tree early this year.

Apparently, increasing demand, the ravages of Mother Nature and the 2008 recession have all played a role in creating a Christmas tree shortage across North America.

Shirley Brennan, with the Canadian Christmas Tree Growers Association, recommends that even if you aren't one of those people who likes to put up the tree early, you can still make sure you get one.

"Don't wait, go out and buy it," she told the Calgary Eyeopener. "You don't have to put it in your home. Keep it in a cool spot — so you can keep it outside, maybe. I would recommend tying it only or preventing it from being in the elements.

"If it was windy or very snowy, make sure it's just protected … and when you're ready to bring it in the house, bring it in the house. And if your tradition is to put it up on December 15th, still put it up on December 15th — but at least you have it."

Brennan says the shortage is not yet obvious to the consumer because it's affecting the tree sellers.

"In a week or two, we are going to see a shortage. Some people were shorted as much as 20 to 25 per cent of what they normally would put up," she said of the tree lots.

It takes about 10 years to grow a mature Christmas tree. Brennan says the shortage has been brewing for about a decade.

It takes about a decade to grow a Christmas tree, and the industry may not have anticipated the demand for trees in 2019, says Shirley Brennan of the Canadian Christmas Tree Growers Association. (Patrick Callaghan/CBC)

"In 2008, we had a recession, and that would have been when our tree farmers were planting seedlings. So that would have meant maybe they didn't plant as many, maybe they didn't expand because it was financial unrest, or they didn't go ahead and purchase land to expand their business — and now the price of land has just skyrocketed," she said. 

So that's one of the things.

The next thing is Mother Nature.

"There's been so many different unexpected weather problems, so whether it's forest fires in B.C., whether it's an extreme frost in May and June in Nova Scotia, we've seen it all, for seedlings right up to mature trees," Brennan said.

Brennan says the trees we see on sale here in Calgary are generally grown all over North America, with very few tree farms here in Alberta.

Imports are not coming in

"Some come from Nova Scotia, which would be the Nova Scotia balsam, which is what Nova Scotia is known for. But they also come from the States," she said.

"You also get some from B.C., and what's happening is B.C. has got a shortage, because they would import some trees from the Washington State, and in the U.S. they've got a real shortage. So the imports aren't coming in."

It's not just that the trees will be harder to find this year. Brennan says they'll cost more, too — and not necessarily because of a shortage. 

"You know we just had a rail strike, so that will affect transportation costs, and the cost of farming, the taxes in all the provinces have gone up," Brennan said. "And that certainly is, unfortunately, one of the things that is passed on to the consumer."

Fuelling the shortage, Brennan says, is an increase in demand for real Christmas trees.

"Over the last five years, our industry has gone from a $53-million industry to a $100-million industry," she said.

"So the demand has increased beyond our expectations … we can't plan in January for this December, and that's the problem. Our forecast is always 10 years. So did we did we miscalculate it? We might have, but we didn't expect that our demand would go up so greatly."

With files from the Calgary Eyeopener.