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Real trees are in real short supply

An increase in demand last year had holiday tree sellers noticing a shortage in supply. With more people staying home, more trees lit up living rooms, providing a sense of warmth.

Shoppers are being told to buy their trees early this year to avoid the mad dash that may be coming the first week of December.

“We would recommend that most people should buy earlier – that’s the best way to play it safe. I do feel there will be a shortage; last year a lot of farms in the area had posted on social media by December 5 or 6, ‘we’re sold out for the year.’ So I do recommend going early to play it safe if you don’t want to be disappointed,” said Gerard Demaiter, co-owner of Benjamin Tree Farm near St. Jacobs.

“We saw a large increase of Christmas tree sales last year with everyone being home and not much going on. There was about a 20 per cent increase in sales last year due to the increased demand.”

Benjamin Tree Farm grows its own supply of Christmas trees that they sell annually to customers in the region. They also buy a large amount of their supply every year from one of Canada’s growers.

Sudden shifts in demand can be difficult to meet given that it takes eight to 12 years to grow a Christmas tree, noted Demaiter. 

“We’ve been feeling the shortage for a few years now. For a few years, a lot of the growers have not been taking on new customers; a lot of the wholesalers, their current customer base has enough demand for everything that they can supply. So it’s been very hard for people to even find new growers to work with because everyone is all sold out very early in the year.”

With young people unable to easily go into farming even as established growers moving into retirement, Demaiter said there are fewer tree farmers to buy from. In 2011, for instance, census information from Statistics Canada showed there were 2,381 Christmas tree farmers in the country. Just five years later, there were 1,872.

 “Every year there’s becoming less, unfortunately. There’s enough right now, but your options are being reduced. The reason is the land pricing has skyrocketed and the initial costs for any young person to get into farming, those costs are through the roof. They’re looking at a minimum of a multi-million-dollar investment just to get started in farmland and equipment. It takes eight to 12 years to get your Christmas trees ready to market, so you have to have no income for the first eight years of growing your trees. How do you manage that, unless it’s being passed down?”

Despite some reports of shortages of some tree varieties, Demaiter said Benjamin’s will have its usual selection, though volumes will vary.

“We offer balsam fir, Fraser fir, blue spruce, white spruce and Norway spruce, the standard trees that we’ve always offered in the past. We have them all available again this year. Definitely all the popular choices, all the high-quality trees that people are looking for,“ he said.

“Last year maybe we only were short-shipped 10 per cent; now this year, they’re saying ‘hey, we have to short-ship 25 per cent,’ so that’s a big difference on what we have available to sell.”

The shortages have been a growing issue for the 1st Elmira Scouts, whose sale of trees is a longstanding yuletide tradition.

 “There has actually been shortage for a number of years due to some recession, I want to say as far back as 2000,” said group commissioner Philippe Bertrand. “The impact, we started feeling a couple of years ago; we had a reduction in inventory for a few years compared to what we’ve brought in before, and I’m not certain exactly how many trees we’re going to get. We’re hoping to get exactly the same number as last year, but no guarantees.”

Bertrand noted the Scouts sold out of trees in two weeks during last year’s fundraising effort, which sees the group set up shop at the bandstand in Elmira.

“Last year was completely different and this year is going to be completely different again because now that we have vaccinations and we have indoor stuff open – we have a lot more businesses open,” said Bertrand, noting businesses and places people gather are often the ones buying larger trees.

The Scouts will be selling trees again starting this Sunday, November 28 at Gore Park in Elmira. All funds from their trees go to support the organization.

“Monday to Friday is 6:30 to 8:30 p.m., Saturday is 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday is noon to 4. Weekends are usually very busy. I anticipate that we will sell out – but last year there was no Charlie Brown [trees] to be had.”

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