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Christmas tree shortage? It’s real, and affecting retailers and organizations in Sudbury

Demand for real trees has seen the industry grow from $53M in 2015 to $100M in 2020

’Tis the season to purchase a Christmas tree and decorate your home for the holidays. But real or fake? It’s a hot topic every year around the holidays.

Of course, many people opt for a fake tree. They are easier to maintain, they don’t lose their needles, you don’t have to water them, and they last for years.

In 2017, Canada imported a total of about $120 million in artificial Christmas trees, according to Statistics Canada. 

Artificial Christmas trees are big business, but it seems more and more Canadians desire the real thing these days.

The demand for real trees has grown so much since 2015, it has resulted in a shortage, said the executive director of the Canadian Christmas Tree Association (yes, it’s a real thing).

Shirley Brennan said the farming of Christmas trees in Canada was a $53-million industry in 2015. In 2020, Christmas tree farming has become a $100-million industry. 

“In five years, we certainly could not have predicted that rapid growth,” Brennan said.

While the demand for Christmas trees has continued to grow, a number of factors have impacted supply, Brennan said.

For starters, Christmas tree farms work on a 10-year cycle. That means farmers can’t just plant more trees and expect to harvest them right away. 

Furthermore, Christmas tree farmers are getting older, she said.

“Like every other farming industry, we have farmers who are retiring or passing away, and their succession plan does not include someone taking over their farming business,” Brennan said. “We're seeing more of that happen. And that's what the decrease in farms across Ontario

is about.”

In Canada, there are currently 33,500 hectares (82,700 acres) of land used for growing Christmas trees. In 2016, 2,872 farms grew Christmas trees in Canada, according to Statistics Canada’s Christmas … by the numbers website.

In Ontario alone, there are 520 Christmas tree farms. Brennan said she represents about 125 of those farms. 

Brennan said as far as she knows, there is one farm located in Northern Ontario, however, it still isn’t able to harvest trees yet.

“It's really hard to farm Christmas trees in the Sudbury area and across Northern Ontario, because your growing season is totally different,” Brennan said. 

It’s retailers who will most see the impact of the shortage, she said. Retailers, such as grocery stores and gardening centres, likely will receive less trees this year than they want. Furthermore, they likely won’t get the selection of trees they want.

“Let's say a retailer normally gets 1,000 trees, but this year, they may only get 80 per cent of their trees, and they're down 20 per cent,” Brennan said. “But then other retailers might get their 1,000 trees, but they maybe want extra trees, well they're not getting those.”

It means consumers will be able to buy a Christmas tree, but it might not be the one they had really wanted.

“If they are used to getting that Fraser fir, that eight-foot beautiful Fraser fir, they are in short supply right now, so consumers might not be able to get the size they want, or a Fraser fir at all,” Brennan said.

In Greater Sudbury, the shortage has affected many businesses and organizations, including the 1st Copper Cliff Scouts.

The group has been selling Christmas trees for 25 years now. It has become its own holiday tradition, said Kerry Radey, group commissioner for the 1st Copper Cliff Scouts.

Prior to the Christmas tree shortage, the group would get more than 300 trees to sell, and they were always in demand, selling out within days, Radey said. The scout group buys their trees from Somerville Nurseries Inc. in Everett.  

In 2019, the scouting group really started to see the impact of the shortage. That year, they were able to purchase their full complement of Christmas trees, but couldn't get all the types of trees that they wanted.

“A lot of them were little trees that we didn't order,” said Radey. “They just basically gave us those to make up our numbers because they didn't have the premium Fraser firs that we ordered.”

For the past two years, the group has received fewer trees overall to sell to a public that has come to anticipate their Christmas tree will come from the 1st Copper Cliff Scouts.

“We raise about $2,000 a year through the Christmas trees,” Radey said. “Now we're down to 250 trees this year, and we had to order them in July.”

The 1st Copper Cliff Scouts started selling their Christmas trees on Nov. 20 and almost sold out in one day, Radey said. Prior to 2020, the fastest the group ever sold out of Christmas trees was nine days. 

“The past two years, we are 98-per-cent sold out the first day,” Radey said.

The trees are the backbone of the group, she said, and have been for 25 years. Each tree sold means about a $7 profit for the group, so the shortage has already impacted the group’s operating expenses. 

“Our Cubs go to big camps and on adventures, and those are big expenses,” Radey said. “(The sale of Christmas trees) makes a huge difference. It really does. We now have to charge parents an extra $20 to take the kids to camp or an extra $40 that we didn't have to charge them before because we had enough Christmas trees.”

The Christmas trees are a great fundraiser, she said, but more importantly, “we have relationships with people that now stretch back 25 years. Kids who came with their parents those first few years are now bringing their own kids to buy trees from us.”

Radey said the Copper Cliff Scouts will continue to sell Christmas trees even if the supply keeps going down.

“This is something we're committed to, and we're going to keep it up as long as we are able to get the trees,” Radey said.

Brennan said she is happy to know the Copper Cliff Scouts were able to purchase as many trees as they did this year. She said many charities have had to stop selling trees because they couldn't get them. 

“I am a great supporter of supporting local charities that do sell Christmas trees and help bring the spirit into their municipality,” she said.

Brennan’s advice to those looking to buy Christmas trees this year: “Have some patience. Don't panic. There are trees out there. It's just maybe not going to look like it has in the past.”



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