Canadians who want to hang decorations from a real Christmas tree this holiday season may want to buy early. A surge in demand over the last few years has made Christmas trees a hot commodity, with retailers selling out well before December 25.
Last year, Helen Yanch, who’s been operating Skootamatta Christmas Tree Farm in Ontario’s Addington Highlands region with her husband Ed for the last 35 years, had to close operations mid-season.
“We just didn’t have any more trees, and we’ve got to think of the next year,” she says.
Yanch attributes the surge in Christmas tree demand to the pandemic. Last year, she saw an increase in families planning trips to their farm as an excuse to get together outdoors amid Covid. As a result, Skootamatta sold twice as many trees as usual in 2021, and Yanch expects that trend to continue this year.
“We were overwhelmed, and we were really kind of sad because we have our regular people that come every year to get a tree and some of them just weren’t able to,” she says.
Skootamatta has 25,000 trees on its property, but Yanch points out that it takes between 10 to 12 years for a Christmas tree to mature, so of those 25,000, only several hundred are ready to harvest each year. The number becomes even smaller if you’re looking for a particular type of tree, such as the ever-popular balsam fir.
Another reason for the increased demand at Skootamatta is that a neighbouring Christmas tree farm permanently closed in August. Yanch says she’s already had a handful of calls from retailers and individuals who frequented the farm to see if Skootamatta has trees available.
The increased demand for Christmas trees isn’t isolated to the Addington Highlands region, but is being seen across the country.
“In 2015, we were a $53 million industry, and in 2020, we were a $100 million industry,” says Shirley Brennan, the executive director of the Canadian Christmas Trees Association. “We’ve almost doubled. And because it takes 10 years to grow a Christmas tree, and most growers work on a 10-year plan, we did not forecast our industry growing that big.”
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The number of Christmas tree farms across Canada is also shrinking. Brennan says that most Christmas tree farmers in Canada are between 65 to 85 years old. Once those farms become too hard to manage, they close down, and the gap isn’t being filled.
“In 2011, Stats Canada showed us that there was just over 70,000 acres across Canada of Christmas tree farms. It worked out to be about 2,800 Christmas tree farms across Canada. In 2021, we had just over 1,300 Christmas tree farms, which is equivalent to 50,000 acres. So, we’ve lost 20,000 acres, which is equivalent to 30 million trees,” Brennan says.
One positive that came out of the pandemic is that the Canadian Christmas Trees Association is seeing some interest from a younger generation. “Because people were working remotely, they could also have a side job as a Christmas tree farmer,” she says. “So, we’re getting younger people interested, and by younger, I’m talking 48.”
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But Brennan notes that the average Christmas tree farm is between 10 to 40 acres. Most of these hobby growers are starting farms on lots smaller than 10 acres, meaning fewer trees.
Unprecedented levels of inflation are also impacting the Christmas tree industry. Brennan says prices will vary by area, but there’s been an average price bump across Canada of 10 per cent.
“Although it’s not regulated and farms set their own prices, we know that the cost of fertilizer went up 25 per cent, we know that employment costs have gone up, we also know that some of the strategies that we had to bring in because of the pandemic added costs, and the other thing that we are seeing a lot of is insurance rates for farms have gone up,” she says. “So, all those daily things to run our farms on top of diesel and transportation have gone up, in some cases, by huge amounts.”
At Skootamatta, it’ll cost you $35 to visit the farm and cut down your own tree. But if you want to guarantee you get one, Yanch says you better come soon. They’re selling fast.