Some Virginia Christmas tree farmers expect shortages
Published 9:59 am Wednesday, November 15, 2017
Virginia Farm Bureau
Demand for fresh-cut Virginia Christmas trees continues to increase, and some growers are coming up short.
“There is definitely a big-time shortage of trees this year,” remarked Rodney Richardson, owner of Mt. Rogers Tree Farm in Grayson County where he grows nearly 200 acres of Fraser firs for wholesale and retail sales. “We’ve had a lot of calls from the Midwest. There’s an undersupply due to a long dry spell and wildfires out West. We just don’t have the trees to sell them. Everyone has a shortage, including me.”
Each year the Richardson family harvests close to 15,000 trees. They sell to a few mom-and-pop operations, but the majority of their income is from sales to Kroger stores in the mid-Atlantic region.
“There was an oversupply a few years back. The price of trees dropped for a while and some farms went out of business. Now we have an undersupply. Wholesale and retail prices will definitely increase this year. We will have a price increase of $2 to $3 over last year,” Richardson said.
Tony Banks, a commodity marketing specialist for Virginia Farm Bureau Federation, noted that Virginia is a good location for Christmas tree farming for two primary reasons. First, growing conditions — including climate and geography — are conducive to raising a variety of tree species across the state. Secondly, Virginia farms are located within a day’s drive of two-thirds of consumers.
“Virginia production has expanded over the past decade or more among both wholesale Christmas tree farms and retail choose-and-cut farms. Increasing populations in Virginia and the East Coast, along with consumer demand for locally grown products, are contributing to the added production.
But it’s a long process, generally taking seven or more years to raise most trees to a marketable size,” Banks pointed out.
Virginia’s Christmas tree industry includes thousands of growers, according to the Virginia Christmas Tree Growers Association. It is estimated there are more than 7 million trees growing in the state, with annual sales of $40 million.
VCTGA President Jeff Gregson grows a variety of Christmas trees at Bees and Trees Farm, a Culpeper County choose-and-cut operation. “Last year, sales were up around the state, and most members anticipate demand to either meet or exceed last year,” Gregson noted.
He will begin selling trees the day after Thanksgiving and although demand is up, his prices will remain the same as last year. His farm also has a Christmas shop that sells holiday items and fresh wreaths and garlands.
Dave Thomas, VCTGA vice president, has been growing and selling Christmas trees for about 30 years at Valley Star Farm, a Page County choose-and-cut operation. During that time, he said sales have steadily increased.
“Tree supplies were abundant 2 or 3 years ago. I’ve been hearing recently that farms are low on supply, but we have seen a steady increase in the number of trees we sell,” remarked Thomas.
Thomas, who says his best seller is the concolor fir, will debut a new variety for cutting this year, the Canaan fir. Planted about 10 years ago, the trees have reached 7 to 8 feet in height and are the same kind of tree presented to First Lady Dorothy McAuliffe last year by VCTGA to decorate the Executive Mansion.
“People will enjoy the Canaan fir,” remarked Thomas. “It has nice soft needles and branches heavy enough to hold ornaments well.”