Raising and selling sheared Christmas trees is popular as well as profitable enterprise for rural landowners in southwest Washington. The mild winters, and long growing season, encourage the vigorous growth of Douglas fir, Noble fir, Grand fir, and to a lesser extent Fraser and Nordmann fir. There is a good demand for locally raised trees from the large population base in Clark and Cowlitz counties. The high humidity and cool fall harvesting season ensure good keepability once the tree has been cut. If the trees are properly displayed with access to fresh water they will stay fresh and green all during the holiday season.
The most recent data from the Washington State Agricultural Statistics Services finds that there are approximately 350 acres of plantation Christmas tree farms in Clark county. These farms range in size from just a few acres to large farms approaching 100 acres. Total sales amounted to $1.3 million dollars 2002. Clark county is ranked 6th in the state as far as county Christmas tree production.
In Washington there are over 300 commercial Christmas tree producers, who farm 25,000 acres, and each year harvest 2 million trees worth an estimated $60 million dollars. Washington is ranked sixth nationally in terms of the number of trees sold. The value of the industry has stayed even over the last 5 years.
Oregon leads the entire United States in Christmas tree production by having nearly 61,000 acres under cultivation by an estimated 775 producers. On a national basis Oregon produces over one-third of the total number of Christmas trees purchased. In 2004 an estimated 7.3 million trees were harvested, with a combined value of $142 million dollars. This number does not account for trees sold at local Choose and Cut farms. In Oregon the leading Christmas tree producing region is Clackamas county, with 17,700 acres of trees being raised directly south of the Columbia River. The deep rich soils on the western flanks of Mt. Hood can encourage trees to grow as much as one foot per year. Growers have organized the Clackamas County Christmas Tree Marketing Association in order to help their membership grow and market trees successfully. Over 90% of the Oregon grown trees are shipped out of the state. California Hawaii and the other western states account for 60% of sales.
National Christmas tree production in 2004
→ Oregon: 7.3 million trees sold
→ North Carolina: 3.5 million trees sold
→ Michigan: 3.0 million trees sold
→ Pennsylvania: 2.3 million trees sold
→ Wisconsin: 2.0 million trees sold
→ Washington: 2.0 million trees sold
From: Pacific Northwest Christmas Tree Association
According to the National Christmas Tree Association, Christmas trees are grown in all 50 states of the nation as well as all through Canada. All told there are more than 500,000 acres in production, being tended to by 21,000 growers. During the late fall over 100,000 people are employed either full or part-time in the industry.
In the year 2005 Christmas tree growers were very satisfied with the stat of the industry. In a national poll 24% of U.S. households stated that they were going to purchase a real tree, as opposed to a fake tree. Nationally sales were expected to surpass 27 million trees, up from 23.4 million trees a year earlier.
Membership dues for Christmas tree growers who would like to join the National Association start at $$214/year plus $.15/tree sold. Dues entitle the member to receive the quarterly magazine, promotional art work that can be used to help sell trees, liability insurance, credit card programs, and admittance to national meetings. For further information call the National Christmas Tree Association headquarters in Chesterfield, MO at 636-449-5070 or visit their website.
Northwest Christmas Tree Association
In Oregon and Washington the key grower association to support research, industry surveys, and market expansion is the Pacific Northwest Christmas Tree Association, based out of Salem, OR. This organization is responsible for the bulk of industry recognition and promotion for Oregon and Washington. Members organize a September Tree Fair and Trade Show, which is one of the largest in the country. They also sponsor an annual Summer Meeting and Farm Tour at various locations throughout western Oregon and Washington. Each fall a Buy-Sell Directory is published which lists members who have trees for sale, and regional buyers who are looking for trees. For further information call the Pacific Northwest Christmas Tree Association in Salem Oregon at 503-364-2942.
Choose and Cut
Southwest Washington farmers have been busy putting in Choose and Cut tree farms all through Clark County. When they locate their farms on well traveled roads, have good signage sales, and offer a quality product at a reasonable price, sales will be good. The more entrepreneurial farmers have been adept at incorporating entertainment as well, including wagon rides, hot drinks, tree shaking, and by offering accessories as well. U-cut prices reflect the amount of service that goes into the sale of each tree. It’s not un-common to find the more expensive true firs selling for $4–$6 per foot. The less expensive Douglas fir typically goes for $3–$5 per foot. Artificial tree sales have leveled off nationally which is good sign for the real tree industry. While the majority of customers are shopping for a 7’-8’ tall tree there is a very strong market for the much larger trees to fit the needs of home-owners with vaulted ceilings. Both the Columbain Newspaper and the Reflector Newspaper listed the farms that sell trees directly. In 2005 there were approximately 23 farms listed.
The common sizes of Douglas fir (6’–7’) have been selling for $12–$16 wholesale depending upon the quality. For Noble fir growers have seen prices ranging from $24–$35 depending upon the size, intended market, and the shearing style they have received. Grand fir prices typically range between $17 and $22 once again depending upon the height and quality. Nordmann fir have been returning $23–$28 depending on the tree size. On a typical farm a grower may harvest as many as 1,100 trees per acre. The true firs including Noble, Grand, and Nordmann, will take anywhere from 6–12 years to mature depending upon the height of tree the buyer is looking for. On better sites the true firs can grow up to a foot per year. For Douglas fir harvest maturity (6’ minimum) can be attained in 7 years if the trees are properly cared for over their entire rotation.
Grower Education Classes
Both WSU and OSU offer grower education classes for rural land owners who are interested in starting a Christmas tree farm. Clark County Extension offers Christmas Tree Workshop and farm tour in June each year. OSU Clackamas County conducts an annual Tree School year which discusses Northwest forestry issues as well as Christmas tree farming. For 2006 Tree School will be held on Saturday, March 25, 2006, at Clackamas Community College.
Future of the Industry
With the recent increase in acreage by the large Oregon producers there are concerns over the future of industry, especially as it relates to the export of tree out of the Northwest. The wholesale price and supply for the more common 5’–6’ and 6’–7’ Noble firs have now stabilized after 3–4 years of heavy planting. The supply for the larger trees (8’ and over) is still short. Growers who also have Douglas fir report a good demand, primarily when buyers balk at the higher costs for the Noble fir. Shippers are expressing more concern over the availability of trucks and the price of diesel fuel for interstate shipments of trees into California or the Midwest (Christmas Tree Lookout magazine, winter 2005). However, by the end of the 2005 shipping season most growers did not report an expected shortage of over-the-road trucks (Capital Press Newspaper, Dec. 23, 2005)
Despite the potential for a small over-supply situation in the next few years most growers in the Northwest remain optimistic. Reports from the National Christmas Tree Association seem to point to an increase in interest on the part of younger age families interested in having real tree as opposed to an artificial one (American Christmas Tree Journal, January 2005).
As long as marketing efforts continues on both a regional, as well as national basis, for the real Christmas tree, Northwest rural landowners should continue to reap the rewards of growing a desirable group of species of trees that essentially are only grown well in the mild conditions of western Washington and Oregon.