Christmas tree growers in BC are seeing strong demand, with high quality trees making it to market.
“The market is good. We’ll probably outdo last year and last year was one of our best years,” says Art Loewen of Pine Meadows Tree Farms Ltd. in Chilliwack, who has been growing trees since 1970. “We’re getting customers from all over the Lower Mainland and Interior of BC.”
Despite the impact of last year’s unprecedented heat wave on some growers, the quantity and quality of trees making it to market this year is good.
“We have plenty of trees. We’re not going to run out,” he says. “The trees are good, the quality’s good. Our wholesale guys have been very happy with what they’re getting.”
Prices are also steady, supported by less product from other jurisdictions. In many cases, freight costs were simply too high to make it economical. Loewen did not source trees from Quebec this year given the high costs, allowing him to offer slightly better pricing to the wholesalers he supplies.
“We dropped the price a little bit this year because we weren’t bringing any from the east. Last year, we had to put the price quite high because of the cost of the freight,” he says.
Prices run between $8 and $15 a foot for trees at Saanichton Christmas Tree Farm on Vancouver Island.
“I haven’t put my prices up,” says owner Joan Fleming. “I should, but I haven’t. I don’t want to gouge my customers. They’re paying a good price for the trees.”
She has five acres in Saanichton as well as 50 acres of trees at Shawnigan Lake. Both properties are delivering good-quality trees, thanks to a combination of location and close management.
“I don’t have a shortage at all because we grow them,” she says. “The quality is good, and we didn’t get any scorching on our trees because the Malahat is at a higher elevation.”
The biggest threat to the local supply is a shortage of new commercial growers.
According to the latest Census of Agriculture, there were just 276 Christmas tree farms in BC last year, down from more than 400 five years earlier. Acreage more than halved, from 6,476 to 3,143 acres. The only areas to see growth were the Nechako and Peace regions, where five small-lot growers started up.
“It’s hard to retire when you have a Christmas tree farm,” says Fleming, now 69, who says raising trees is a full-time job that requires a long-term plan.
“It takes seven years to grow a seven-foot tree, so you’re putting in all the labour costs before you get a dollar for your tree,” she says. “There has to be an ongoing cycle, because what I make this year is going into my labour costs next year. … It’s not just planting the trees and letting them grow.”
Plenty of small-lot growers are offering choose-and-cut, but Loewen says this does little to serve the broader market demand. Prices may be good for these growers but the province will increasingly need to look elsewhere if it wants to meet local demand.
“We have more and more people starting up with the small production. … People are interested in that here, and that’s going to help, but we don’t have any big growers starting up,” Loewen says. “So we’re always going to be short.”