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Strong demand for traditional real Christmas trees can exceed supply

Brothers John and William Lawrie picked out the perfect tree at Benjamin Tree Farm just in time for the holiday season. [Aneta Rebiszewski / The Observer]

With Christmas just a few weeks away there’s only a short time left to pick out the perfect tree, but what will you choose: real or fake? Many retailers are facing dilemmas that is causing a shortage on the stock of trees that are available for sale during this holiday season.

For some, planning ahead is the only option to avoid any shortages.

“We placed our orders in January for the following year because we sort of roughly know what we’re going to sell so we want to make sure we get our numbers in quick,” said Gerard Demaiter at Benjamin Tree Farm located just outside of St. Jacobs.

Despite ordering ahead, there’s still a good chance that the grower will not be able to meet the quota, Demaiter says. Businesses usually don’t get a confirmation of their order until late-August, which leaves some time to acquire more trees if needed.

Many retailers like Benjamin Tree Farm get their trees from growers in Quebec or Nova Scotia, but they also grow their own trees to meet the need of consumers.

“Instead of everybody cutting their own tree we sell a few more of our pre-cut selection instead, so we judge the numbers on how many people want to cut their own vs. how many people just want to pick from our building,” said Demaiter.

Ron Robinson of Robinson Christmas Trees in Ariss explains that there is a local shortage due to the increase of fresh tree sales in the last few years.

“The trees take seven to 10 years to grow, so you can’t cure the shortage by planting more trees because it’s going to take years,” he said.

With the demand so high there’s no wonder there is a sudden shortage, says Robinson, noting millions of trees that are grown in Eastern Canada get shipped to the United States, making it difficult to keep up with the increased demand. “Trees are not like corn: they take so long to grow, so you have to look ahead seven to nine years.”

Weather can also be a factor as to why some retailers are not getting as many trees or they lack in quality, says Demaiter.

“Because of the hard frost last year, they were short of the premium trees – the nicest ones. The trees still grew, but they weren’t as nice as they were the years before.”

When buying a tree consumers often debate whether they should go with an artificial one or the real deal, which contributes to the supply-and-demand issues retailers are facing.

“There are a lot of millennials who have never had an artificial tree, so we get a lot of young people in here and they’re going for a fresh-cut tree,” Robinson said of the trend he’s seen at his tree farm.

An artificial tree can be re-used for some eight years, lowering its ecological footprint in the short-term, that impact eventually increases when the tree is discarded because there is no way to recycle them.

On the other side, fresh trees absorb carbon for some 10 years as they grow, but that gets released after they’re cut. Many growers try to balance the carbon impact by planting as many new trees to take their place, Robinson notes.

A real tree can last up to six weeks if taken care of properly, and they can be composted or repurposed after the holidays, he added.

“When it does get recycled, generally it’s mulched and then the mulch is used environmentally for trails and so on.” 

To get the best tree possible during this holiday season, Demaiter advises people get out and choose their tree as early as the first weekend of December.

“The nicest trees sell first so the sooner you get out there the better the selection you’ll have. The pickings become slimmer for cutting your own as the season progresses.”

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