Dan Nightingale trims a13-metre tall white spruce in Purlbrook, N.S. (Photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Christmas tree prices on the rise for first time in almost a decade

CALGARY — Holiday shoppers might have to fork over a little more for the evergreen scent of a natural Christmas tree this year as a shortage south of the border and increased demand for real trees put pressure on prices.

Canadian Christmas tree farmers are raising prices as much as 10 per cent as the effect of market forces making firs, pines and spruces sparse in the U.S. spills over into Canada.

Jimmy Downey, president of the Quebec Christmas Tree Growers Association, said it’s a relief that he’s been able to raise his wholesale price by about 10 per cent this year.

“It’s the first time we can raise our prices in a good eight years, ten years,” he said.

“The cost of fertilizer, the cost of labour was always on the rise, so players that weren’t efficient had to sell out their farms.”

Eastern Canada should have plenty of trees this year, but British Columbia, which has generally imported trees from the U.S., might see some shortages, Downey said.

The divergence in Christmas tree prices across Canada was already apparent before this year’s crunch, with the average price of a Christmas tree running $39 in B.C., compared to just $27 in Ontario, according to 2016 data from Square Communications.

Arthur Loewen, treasurer of the B.C. Christmas Tree Council, said the association advised members not to take advantage of the shortage in the province.

“Our Christmas Tree association talked about it and we decided, be careful, don’t up your prices any big amounts, just a modest amount.”

He said that since costs keep rising on fuel and other business expenses, and they aren’t able to increase prices some years, it makes sense to when the market allows.

“Because there’s fewer trees available, it’s the time to put up the price a bit.”

He said his farm increased prices about five per cent, with 10 per cent likely the upper end of what anyone is raising prices in the province.

Tight supply in the U.S. is due to farmers planting fewer trees seven to 10 years ago because at the time oversupply and the Great Recession combined to push down prices, according to the U.S. National Christmas Tree Association. Several dry seasons have stunted tree growth there.

In addition, many farmers in the U.S. and Canada have dropped out of the business. The number of hectares devoted to Christmas trees in Canada dropped to 23,787 in 2016 from 28,315 in 2011, while the number of farms fell to 1,872 from 2,381, according to Statistics Canada.

The drop is coming not only from increasing costs, but also because older tree farmers have been struggling to find someone to keep the operations going, said Shirley Brennan of the Canadian Christmas Tree Growers Association.

“The farmers and the plantations are getting older, and there’s no one to take over from them.”

She said the farm numbers are dropping even as demand has been rising for several years, with this one looking particularly strong.

To help boost sales, Christmas tree associations have been pooling money for marketing campaigns to buy natural, as well as skinnier and shorter trees that can fit into smaller homes and apartments.

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