St. Louis-area Christmas tree lot owners have a short supply of tall trees this year
Christmas tree lot owners across the St. Louis region say customers waiting to purchase a tree could face slim pickings for taller trees this year as the holiday season ramps up.
Tree lot owners said they've seen an increasingly tight supply over the past several years as demand for real trees has increased and it takes longer for larger trees to grow.
“It means people are not going to maybe get the size tree or the type of tree that they're really after if they wait too long,” said Dan Mitchell, co-owner of the Summit All Seasons Market at Kirkwood Farmers' Market.
The tight tree supply isn’t a new issue.
Mitchell said there was an oversupply of trees more than a decade ago. But many farmers left the tree growing business during the 2008 recession.
“There were so many trees that the guys were basically giving them away,” he said. “So they're not making any money and so a lot of farms said, ‘Hey, I'm not going to plant any more trees, I'm losing here and I'm just gonna get out of the business.' And even the guys who stayed in are like, 'Hey, I'm going to cut back on my planting."
Droughts in the western U.S. and the increased cost of fertilizer also have led farmers to leave the tree growing industry, meaning fewer places for lot owners to purchase trees and higher prices for trees, especially taller ones.
“What I'm used to getting maybe from three or four growers, now I'm having to reach out to about eight or 10, just so that we can keep up with the demand of our lots,” said Sullivan Farms owner Lynn Sullivan, who purchases thousands of trees from farmers in Michigan. “One of my biggest suppliers of Fraser firs, I’ve been doing business with him probably for over 20 years, and he still cannot fill the need for everything that I have.”
While Sullivan and Mitchell don’t expect to sell out of trees early, they say smaller lots face greater challenges.
Sullivan said customers from as far away as Florida have driven to one of his lots to purchase a tree this year because there are fewer trees near their homes. He said farmers have started growing more trees over the past couple of years because of the shortage.
Trees typically grow a foot a year, meaning it can take up to 12 years for a tree to reach its ideal height.
But some Missouri farmers are hoping to grow new varieties of fir and pine trees to meet the growing demand and produce faster-growing trees that will also be taller, said Wayne Harmon, owner of Starr Pines, a choose and cut farm in Boonville.
“We're very hopeful with some new varieties that we're trying here, and some of my research partners around the state of Missouri are also trying on their farms, that we will come up with trees that are better than what we have been growing and we can also get a tree taller in a shorter number of years,” said Harmon, a member of the Missouri Christmas Tree Association.
Harmon said he plants more trees than his farm sells to ensure that he'll have taller trees in coming years.
“That is one reason if we can continue at the rate we're planning, that we'll be able to have tall trees in the future,” Harmon said.