No shortage of Christmas trees this year, but don’t expect any red-tag deals

With Thanksgiving out of the way, the hunt for a Christmas tree is on for plenty of families wanting to snag the perfect Fraser fir or pine for their homes this year.

But spending on a real Christmas tree is yet another expense for households to add to their holiday budgets at the time when inflation remains a pesky problem that’s keeping prices elevated on a variety of products and services.

As far as trees go, farms are promising there will be an adequate supply of trees this year. It typically takes eight to 10 years to grow a Christmas tree, depending on the variety and location, according to the National Christmas Tree Association, a trade group representing growers.

“I haven’t heard of any community in America where people haven’t been able to get a Christmas tree and I don’t expect that will be the case this year,” said Tim O’Connor, executive director of the National Christmas Tree Association.

Still, O’Connor said farms are working with a tight, but sufficient, supply of trees. “This has been the situation since 2016. There is an increase [in trees] coming but it’s not ready to harvest yet,” he said.

Prices on the rise

At the farm level, growers said they will be charging more for their wholesale tree inventory to their business customers but that increase will be significantly less than last year.

The Real Christmas Tree Board, an industry trade group, in September surveyed 49 wholesale growers of Christmas trees who collectively account for two-thirds of the nation’s tree supply about their outlook for the holiday season.

They found that 25% of farms supplying the trees this year expect to raise the wholesale prices they charge retailers by 5% to 15%, down significantly from a substantially higher 71% of farms who did the same year.

Just under half, or 48% of farms, said they would increase their wholesale prices by less than 5% this year while 27% of farms said they would not raise prices at all.

“The starting wholesale price is gonna be much more controlled this year than what we had to experience last year. And the reason for that is the supply looks good,” said Marsha Gray, executive director of the Real Christmas Tree Board.

“What impacted those prices last year were the input costs for the growers, labor, fertilizer, fuel,” Gray said. “Everything that you and I are dealing with they’re dealing with, but in very large quantities. I think that settled down somewhat for the growers. We’re still seeing inflation in our industry but at a much lower increase.”

And farms, she said, have likely opted to absorb much of the business cost increases rather than pass them on to their retail customers.

For the end shopper, though, it’s hard to predict if trees will cost less versus last year because stores that buy bulk quantities of trees from farms have the freedom to decide if they want to pass along any wholesale price savings to their customers.

“We realized a couple of years ago that we can’t speak about retail prices because every retailer, whether it’s a major retail chain, or a garden center or a smaller outlet is going to price the trees differently depending on their overhead costs and how many trees they have,” she said.

“Last year, the median retail price of a Christmas tree was $80. That was up from $70 the prior year,” said O’Connor, adding that the increase was fueled by inflation. “Inflation has moderated this year so any price increases could be milder.”

Lauren Segedin, director of operations at Chimney Pond Farm in Glenville, North Carolina, said her farm is “doing as much as we can to absorb the cost increases so they don’t land on our costumers.”

“Families are already experiencing the financial impact enough themselves and we want to give them a Christmas to remember,” she said.

The farm is spread across 70 acres of Fraser Fir trees. It has more than 20,000 trees in the ground, harvests about 4,000 every year and plants another 5,000 annually.

“Just in the last year, the cost of everything has gone up 5% to 10% — labor, fertilizer, equipment, fuel,” said Segedin. The farm is both a wholesale supplier and also holds choose-and-cut events for families to come to the farm, select their tree and take it with them.

“There’s only so much supply of trees every year,” she said. So to augment income amid rising costs, the farm has looked to make up costs elsewhere.

“We’re also a wedding venue,” she said. “We’re trying to recover some of the costs by offering these other experiences.”

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