Pines on the line: How the Christmas tree shortage will affect Utahns

Local News

FILE: The sun shines through the limbs of fraser fir Christmas trees at Maines Tree Farm in Glade Valley, N.C., Friday, Dec. 2, 2011. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)

UTAH (ABC4) – It seems like supply chain shortages are this year’s Grinch. First, experts warned that they would take our gifts. Now, they say the supply chain issues have come for our Christmas trees.

But, in addition to the predictable supply chain scapegoat, there are many reasons for this year’s Christmas tree shortage, says Jason Laws, an International Society of Arboriculture certified arborist with Salt Lake-based landscaping company Elite Grounds, a division of Stratton and Brätt.

At its most basic, the issue goes back to supply and demand. Laws explains that the Christmas trees Utahns will have in their homes this year were actually planted 8-10 years ago. For each tree that is chopped, growers plant one to three seedlings, basing the number of new trees on anticipated demand in the coming years. This year, holiday revelers are falling victim to the ill-judged guess of a grower who may have been predicting tree demand up to a decade in advance.

“What you’re seeing now is a result of what went planted or not planted several years ago,” Laws says.

In addition, there is just more demand for real Christmas trees this year. Derek Peterson, who owns Peterson Tree Care in Elk Ridge, says that he’s noticed more Utahns opting for fresh cut trees in 2021.

“I’ve sold half of my load already in 5-6 days,” Peterson says. “I’ll probably be sold out in like 6-7 more days.”

Last year, Peterson sold out of Christmas trees in 11 days. This year, he ordered several hundred more trees – for a grand total of 1,400 – to keep up with demand.

And while there are trees still available as of now, Laws and Peterson both advise decking the halls soon.

“If anybody is in the market to get a tree, they should probably go out and get one as soon as they can,” Laws says.

There also may be environmental factors at play in this year’s Christmas tree shortage, Laws adds. Forests ravaged by fire, tree growth stunted by drought, and early frosts in Oregon and Washington – where many Christmas trees are grown – could be having an effect on the supply.

Although Peterson has noticed an increase in demand, he says that his business is not feeling any strain due to lack of supply. The reason, he says, is because he sources his trees from Utah, as opposed to shipping them in from out of state like many larger operations opt to do.

But Laws warns that even Utah trees may soon be in short supply. Because more people are moving to Utah, more land that could be used to grow trees will now be developed – if it hasn’t been already.

“I think this season we will feel like there’s less available,” he says. “Much of the land that was used in Utah is now being used to build houses and commercial properties. We’re having to outsource further and further from the market where we’re actually selling that tree.”

Photo courtesy of Elite Grounds, a division of Stratton and Bratt

And of course, it’s still reasonable to blame part of the issue on pandemic related supply chain and staffing shortage issues.

Both Peterson and Laws say that the increased costs associated with shipping and gas may be causing difficulties bringing trees from out of state. In addition, labor shortages in the industry – many of which may even have pre-pandemic origins – are also resulting in a lack of trees available for purchase.

“Labor has been really strained over the last five years, so not as many people are available to plant the trees,” Laws says.

And the ultimate result of all of this? A dramatic price hike. This year, the median price of a typical 6-7 foot fresh-cut Christmas tree is between $75-$80, according to Laws.

He anticipates that this may lead to more families opting for an artificial tree that they can reuse year after year.

“The price differential won’t be as drastic,” he says. Artificial trees can range from about $30 – upwards of $1,000, depending on size, quality, and brand.

As for looking forward into the future, Laws says that tree shortages – just like the virus itself – may become something we just have to learn to live with.

“I think we’ll see [the shortage] becoming even more severe in years to come,” he says. “Going forward, we will see an increase in price of those trees and a higher demand for them, just because we have fewer trees and it costs more to get them to market.”

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