New Brunswick

N.B. Christmas tree farmers say it's 'impossible' to find workers

Some New Brunswick Christmas tree farmers are struggling with the same issue as their counterparts in the produce industry: finding workers to help run their operations.

Tree farmers say finding people willing to work outside to mow grass and trim trees is 'impossible'

Christmas tree farmers Scotty and Marta Bell say it is nearly impossible to find labourers to help trim trees and cut grass, despite the couple's willingness to pay well. (Shane Fowler/CBC)

Some New Brunswick Christmas tree farmers say they're struggling with the same issue as their counterparts in the produce industry: finding enough workers to help run their operations.

"It is impossible, impossible," said Scotty Bell, who has been farming trees since 1986.

"If you're lucky enough to get somebody you got to pay him well and look after him good."  

As a tree farmer since 1986, Scotty Bell says there is an art to cultivating Christmas trees, but finding people to hire is extremely difficult. (Shane Fowler/CBC)

Bell, who owns and maintains more than 20,000 trees in Florenceville-Bristol, admits that outdoor work, sometimes under a hot sun, isn't for everyone.

But with the province constantly starved for jobs, he thought hiring wouldn't be so hard, he said. 

"So we have to try and get the same guys back every year," said Bell.

"And we pay them good and do a good job." 

Tree trimming, fertilizing and mowing high-growing grasses are all part of the job, according to Bell, who says the summer months are critical to growing lush, beautiful trees. 

"Someone will come out and see these and say they are just trees, it looks easy," he said.

"But grow some trees yourself. It's not easy." 

The majority of these Christmas trees will be exported to the United States for sale during the holiday season. (Shane Fowler/CBC)

From planting to harvest, the trees take from eight to 10 years to mature, a product that requires a great deal of work and investment before generating any profit.

But Bell and his wife said finding labour has been the greatest difficulty they've encountered since day one.

"The biggest struggle is labour," said Martha Bell, who started in the business by making wreaths, mostly as a hobby before it turned into a business.

"I just assumed people would enjoy making wreaths and shearing trees and fertilizing. It's very hands on. But we've found this very difficult." 

Martha Bell started out making Christmas wreaths as a hobby, and she's miffed no one is willing to consider it a paying job. (Shane Fowler/CBC)

The Bells offer workers the ability to choose their own hours, with most choosing to come in early and leave at midday to avoid the heat.

As harvest season approaches, they offer even more incentives, they said, but it's always remained a struggle. 

"But we love it," said Martha Bell.

"You're outside, fresh air, and you're working with nature." 

The vast majority of the trees grown on the multiple lots owned by the couple will go to the United States before the Christmas deadline in 150 days. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Shane Fowler

Reporter

Shane Fowler has been a CBC journalist based in Fredericton since 2013.

now