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Updated: 23rd September 2018 00:39

U.S. Christmas tree shortage, but Charlie Brown tree not the only option

Tree buyers in British Columbia may have to look harder for that perfect Noble fir this Christmas because of a shortage of U.S.-grown trees.

'Are you going to get the tree that you want? Not necessarily' say Xmas tree growers

British Columbians who are used to buying a Noble fir Christmas tree may have to go for another species this year. (CBC)

Tree buyers in British Columbia may have to look harder for that perfect Noble fir this Christmas because of a shortage of U.S. trees.

But it's turned into a boon for Canadian growers who started shipping trees south earlier — and more of them — than usual this year.

Many wholesale buyers put in their bids months earlier than usual by August. 

So some Eastern farms already have run out of stock.

Local B.C. buyers may find the pickings — especially of Noble fir — a little sparse this year, especially in B.C.where many wholesalers buy Washington State-grown Noble fir.

"Do we have enough trees? Yes we have enough trees. Are you going to necessarily get the tree that you want? Not necessarily. Instead of getting a Noble fir, it's just maybe the species that you are used to will be difficult to find," said Shirley Brennan, executive director of the Canadian Christmas Tree Growers Association.

Canadian tree growers are seeing unprecedented demand for their stock this year, as U.S. tree sellers search for stock. (Yvette Brend/CBC)

It's great for Canadian growers who survived the great Christmas tree glut a decade ago when the Canadian market was flooded with U.S. trees.

In the Lower Mainland, average Christmas tree prices range between $25 and $200, depending on size, quality and where they are sold.

That won't change too much this year, say growers.

But expect stiffer price tags in 2018 if the U.S. shortage continues.

"It will make more pressure on Canadian growers and then the price may rise," said Larry Downey of Downey Tree Farm and Nursery near In Hatley, near Sherbrooke, Que., where some of his competitors have reported running out of stock because of U.S. demand.

In 2011 the U.S. debt crisis forced many U.S tree growers to pull up pines for more profitable crops, such as hazelnuts.

And then two years of severe drought in the American Midwest killed many seedlings and damaged stock, say growers.

Given that pine trees grow about one foot per year, that means the U.S.-grown trees that reach the optimum cutting size for sale — between 1.5 and two metres — are also tougher to source.

Many of the Christmas trees sold in British Columbia are sourced from Washington State tree farms. (Faith Rogers)

But don't panic about finding the perfect tree. And there's no need for B.C. tree buyers to settle for anything spindly.

"They might not necessarily settle for a Charlie Brown tree. I think instead of buying a Noble fir, they'll buy a Fraser fir, which is really a better tree," argues Art Loewen, who's been growing and selling trees in Chilliwack for 50 years.

Pine Meadows Tree Farms in Chilliwack will sell about 6,000 trees wholesale this year, plus another 3,000 retail to people in the southern half of the province, he said.

He says smaller, narrower trees are the big trend this season for condo-dwellers who are allowed live trees.

People drive all the way to his farm from Surrey or North Vancouver to pick a tree from his cut-it-yourself lot for $58.

He often debates with other growers whether to trim and shape a tree to become the optimal Christmas tree.

Loewen said he goes for less bushy trees, so ornaments have room to hang.

"They think I'm nuts, but I'm sure selling them."

The price of Christmas trees may be a little steeper this year, especially for the species that come from the U.S., due to shortage of stock from growers. (Yvette Brend/CBC )

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