Is there a Christmas tree shortage in Missouri or Illinois? It depends who you ask | St. Louis Public Radio

Is there a Christmas tree shortage in Missouri or Illinois? It depends who you ask

Nov 27, 2018

Missouri Christmas tree buyers may find fewer trees to choose from this year, and it largely depends on whether your tree is grown in the state or elsewhere.

Tree farmers in some states are blaming the Great Recession of 2008 for a shortage. At that time, financial woes prompted farmers to scale back planting and even put some farms out of business. Weather and growing conditions around the country have also had an impact.

It can take about eight years for a tree to reach the typical Christmas tree height of 6 to 8 feet, according to Teresa Meier, a spokesperson for the Missouri Christmas Tree Association.

Data from the National Christmas Tree Association shows steep declines in trees harvested from 2002 to 2012 in Missouri and almost every other state.

Missouri:

  • 2002: 92,483
  • 2007: 27,344
  • 2012: 32,810

But don’t call current market conditions a shortage, Teresa Meier said, at least in Missouri.

“We are considering it a tighter supply,” she said. “Instead of people having a choice of eight or 10 trees, they may have five to six choose from. There are still plenty of good trees available.” 

Staff members Jose Fonseca and Donald Cole Tuesday prep a Christmas tree for purchase at Summit Produce at Kirkwood Farmers' Market.
Credit Chad Davis | St. Louis Public Radio

The MCTA lists more than 35 farms on its membership roster, most of which sell directly to customers who select the trees themselves.

“There’s a shortage”

A Kirkwood Christmas tree retailer who sources his trees from North Carolina sees the situation differently.

Dan Mitchell, co-owner of Summit Produce at Kirkwood Farmers' Market, says there is, in fact, a Christmas tree shortage. He blames the Fraser fir craze of a few years ago.

“At that point in the industry there was a glut,” Mitchell said. “It takes a good 10 years to grow an 8-foot Christmas tree, so that market was saturated. So what happened at that point everybody started cutting prices.”

From there, it was a matter of supply and demand for America’s favorite Christmas tree.

“So these guys who were just getting into the business realized ‘hey, everybody is cutting their prices, I can only sell my trees for x amount, so let’s just bail out.’ So they basically sold their trees off, their farms off, their land. That has finally caught up to us 10 years later.” 

Oregon is the nation's Christmas tree leader, harvesting more more than 6 million trees a year, according to the NCTA.

“There’s no shortage”

Missouri Christmas tree farmers faced their own challenges.

“Trees are like any farm crop,” Teresa Meier said. “They go through grower cycles, and we are in a lower cycle due to aging growers, so less farms, and some years of difficult growing conditions.”

Those conditions include a drought that hit Missouri in 2003 and 2004.

“Many of the growers lost the seedlings that they planted for two years in a row, so they had two years of non-harvest basically,” said MCTA president Steve Meier, who is married to Teresa Meier. “During that time we had some older growers that decided since they had such a drastic loss, they got out of the business at that time.”

Steve Meier said the recession did not have a major impact on Christmas tree farmers in Missouri.

Americans bought more than 27 million real Christmas trees and about 21 million fake trees in 2017, according to the NCTA.

“‘Shortage’ sounds like there’s not going to be a tree for everybody,” Steve Meier said. “But that’s not true. There’s an abundance of trees for everybody to find a tree, it’s that you don’t have as much of a choice to choose from.”

Both the Illinois Department of Agriculture and the Illinois Christmas Tree Association maintain there is no shortage. IDOA’s Nursery & Northern Field Office Section Manager, Scott Schirmer said that because of the 2008 dip in planting, some customers will notice a difference in available trees.

“Growers cut back on plantings back then, which is resulting in fewer trees ‘of size’ available now,” Schirmer said. “I don't believe there is a true shortage in the sense that folks won't be able to get one. They may just have to pay more for larger trees since those are scarcer at the moment.”

Bottom line

Whether you call it a shortage or “tighter supply,” fewer trees translates into higher prices, although not by much, Steve Meier said. If you buy a scotch pine, white pine, or spruce from a farm in Missouri it will cost between $30 and $35 on average, reflecting an increase of about 25 cents a foot over last year.

Buying a Fraser fir is a different story. Mitchell said he’s had to raise the price for the popular tree from about $79 dollars in previous years to $85. The ICTA estimates the Fraser fir could sell for $90 depending on where in Illinois you live.

The NCTA reports the national average cost of a Christmas tree was $75 in 2017.

Follow Holly and Chad on Twitter at @hollyedgell and @iamcdavis