Slump ends, Christmas tree growers say

SILVERTON, Ore. — Christmas tree growers in the Northwest say the business looks a little greener this year after a slump that drove out a substantial number of producers.

The story is common in agricultural markets: Business gets good, new investors and producers flock in, supply goes up and prices go down, then there’s a shakeout, and finally business gets better.

Growers tell the agricultural publication Capital Press that after a seven-year slide, prices are up slightly, and inventory is moving.

“I’m hearing from a lot of growers that not only are they sold out, they are oversold,” said Bryan Ostlund, executive director of the Pacific Northwest Christmas Tree Association. “They are starting to cut into next year’s inventory … We haven’t heard comments like that for a long time.”

Oregon leads the nation in Christmas tree production. Washington is sixth.

Growers said investors, many new to the industry, planted millions of trees in the early 2000s to take advantage of a strong market. Seven years later, the noble fir and Douglas fir trees reached market size, the market was flooded, and prices plummeted.

“It was bad enough that we lost over half of the growers that had over 100 acres of production in Christmas trees,” said McKenzie “Ken” Cook of McKenzie Farms in Estacada, Ore.

“Six years ago, there were over 110 growers in that category. Today that number is less than 50,” he said.

The total of Christmas trees in the ground in the Northwest has dropped from about 85 million four or five years ago to about 75 million, Cook said. Growers typically harvest about 10 percent of their trees a year.

Prices dropped 35 percent from their peak in 2004 to their low last year, growers said. Producers said prices are now up 2 percent to 3 percent — not enough to sustain them, but they expect better prices over the next two years.

John Tillman of Northwest Plantations in Elma is looking forward to that.

“The people who have stuck it out, who have made a living at this through thick and thin, at this point, I think we deserve to be rewarded a little bit for our perseverance and our ability to serve customers with the trees that they need, and to get through these times,” he said.

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