Buying a real Christmas tree this year? Here's why it could cost more
Minimum wage, hydro prices being blamed for five per cent spike
As the cost of Christmas trees rise across Canada, some eastern Ontario tree farmers are blaming hydro prices and an upcoming hike in the province's minimum wage for the jump.
Tree farmers have raised prices as much as 10 per cent this year, as the effect of market forces making firs, pines and spruces sparse in the U.S. spills over into Canada.
The average price of a Christmas tree in Ontario is $27, making them cheaper here than in other Canadian provinces.
However, some eastern Ontario farmers say the province's cap-and-trade system, the increase in minimum wage to $14 per hour from $11.60 on Jan. 1, 2018, and hydro prices are all contributing to a spike.
"As a seasonal business, we're only open for six weeks of the year for our retail season. We do employ a number of local teenagers, so those costs are also going to be going up significantly," said Pam Martin, co-owner of the Cedar Hill Christmas Tree Farm in Pakenham, Ont., west of Ottawa.
A lot of people think you just plant the tree and eight years later you come back and chop it down.- Pam Martin
Her farm employs two full-time workers from April through to Christmas and 16 seasonal workers during the holidays.
They sell around 3,000 trees each season, and make extra income through a restaurant and gift shop at the farm.
"As everyone knows, the price of fuel has gone up. We see that everyday at the pumps. Our heating costs have gone up. Any input cost has gone up," Martin said.
Even the cost of seedlings from nurseries has risen, she added — culminating in a jump in prices of at least $5 per tree.
While tree farmers set their own prices, the cost of hydro has played a significant role in the farms' decision-making process, said Shirley Brennan, head of the Christmas Tree Farmers of Ontario.
The average cost of a Christmas tree is about five per cent higher this year, Brennan said. That's partly because, unlike in most other provinces, Ontario farmers aren't just selling trees — they're selling an experience.
"You might ask what hydro plays in planting trees, but it's in all the other stuff — creating a memory, having that hot chocolate, baking those cookies, plugging in our equipment that we might need," Brennan said.
Brennan noted the price spike, however, has been less dramatic in Ontario than elsewhere in Canada. There are more than 600 Christmas tree farms in the province, she added, including around 40 in eastern Ontario.
Martin said people don't realize how labour-intensive tree maintenance can be.
"A lot of people think you just plant the tree and eight years later you come back and chop it down," she said.
"They don't realize the number of hours that go into growing, shaping and pruning that tree," Martin added, noting they often have to pull hundreds of pine cones off a single tree, all by hand.
'You gotta go real'
Customers who spoke to CBC News on Saturday didn't seem to be swayed by this year's price jump.
"We could go to the movie theatre tonight and get two tickets to watch a movie and it's going to be a two-hour experience. And this is going to be a two-or-three-week experience," said Dan Cuddy.
Cuddy paid $64 this year for a tree, but said he considers it all part of the Christmas experience.
"It just depends on how you value money. And I think, right now, we're OK spending a little bit of money on a real tree."
Omid McDonald said that even if even if prices increase dramatically, he would still take a real tree over an artificial one.
"There's no comparison," he said. "The smell, the feeling — you gotta go real."
With files from the Canadian Press