large scarce, prices higher

November 26 – PEACEFUL – The doors of Buck Run Evergreen Farms in Wayne Twp. was barely open Friday morning when Ken McDowell threw an 11-foot Fraser fir into the back of his Ford F-150 pickup.

The tree was so tall that the top was sticking out of the pickup truck bed.

“I came early because I was told there won’t be that many tall ones this year,” said McDowell, whose family room has a cathedral ceiling that can accommodate an 11-foot seat.

As Christmas tree farms kicked off their retail season on Black Friday, the mood among growers seems to be: if you want a tall tree, buy it sooner rather than later.

“The early risers like tall trees, like 9 or 10 feet,” said Mike Moyer, who owns the tree farm just west of Friedensburg.

The Pennsylvania Christmas Tree Growers Association insists there is no shortage of freshly cut trees this season among the state’s 1,400 growers.

“The size of the trees and species may not be that different,” said Aaron Grau, Executive Director. “And the cost will likely be higher than last year.”

Moyer, who began growing evergreens on 35 acres in 1999, charges Douglas firs $10 per foot and all other species $13 per foot.

Retail prices are being impacted by wholesale prices, he said, where trees are going from $50 to $60.

Paul Alan Shealer, whose family owns Evergreen Acres Christmas Tree Farm near Auburn, said freshly cut trees are in demand across the country.

In addition to demand, he said, prices are being driven by rising costs for fertilizers, chemicals and labor.

“Our spending has increased by 20 percent,” he said. “We had to raise our prices accordingly.”

Jason Brown, owner of Center Street Hardware in Pottsville, is expecting his first shipment of Christmas trees this weekend.

There are indications that the demand for freshly cut trees will be high again this season.

“We’re already getting phone calls asking about trees,” he said earlier this week. “Last year we sold out two weeks before Christmas.”

demand up

Pennsylvania growers, the fourth largest producer of Christmas trees in the US, will harvest about 1 million trees this season.

The industry is still feeling the effects of the 2008 recession, growers say.

For several years, during and after the recession, growers restricted the planting of seedlings.

Because evergreens take seven to 12 years to become marketable, depending on their size and variety, these seedlings would be reaching maturity now.

The demand for freshly cut trees is so great, Moyer said, that growers are harvesting them earlier.

“People are buying them as fast as we can grow them,” he said. “That’s why you don’t see as many taller trees.”

Shealer, whose family delivered the White House Christmas tree this year, said this season’s drought has impacted the market and will likely have consequences going forward.

“We’ve lost hundreds of mature trees,” he said.

JC Hill, who grows Christmas trees in the Lewistown Valley, said the number of growers is declining.

“A lot of growers are in their 60s,” said Hill, whose tree farm is about 700 acres. “And nobody comes into the industry.”

Growing Christmas trees is labor-intensive, he said, and with the current labor shortage, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to find workers.

“It’s a lot of work,” Moyer said. “For the money you make it’s too much work unless you love it.”

Moyer said tastes are changing when it comes to Christmas trees.

The Frazier fir has replaced Douglas fir as the most popular cultivar, he said. Concolor fir, known for its citrus scent, is also growing in popularity.

Turkish and Korean firs are also gaining popularity.

tradition, tradition

On a bright and early Friday, the Minnich family drove from Pine Grove to Buck Run Evergreen Farms.

Nathan, 20, and his brother Kolby, 16, harvested a 7-foot tall Frazier fir despite an overcast sky threatening rain.

Her mother, Melissa, said getting a tree on Black Friday has become a tradition.

Kerry, her father, conceded that Saturday, being the first day of deer season, may have had something to do with it.

In any case, a number of family heirlooms, including jewelry made by the boys in Boy Scouts, will be hanging from the tree on Christmas morning.

Melissa, an administrative assistant at the Institute for Law Enforcement Education in Harrisburg, said Christmas in the Minnich household is a continuation of the family tradition.

“If your parents made Christmas nice for you,” she said, “you want to make it nice for your kids, too.”

Janelle Bohr and her father Dave Bohr of Mechanicsville took home a 9ft Douglas fir from Buck Run.

Janelle, 43, a licensed practical nurse, said the tree met her strict standards.

“It has to be big and full,” she said.

The Bohrs had selected a tree more than a month ago when Buck Run opened for tagging.

“The tree will have my grandmother’s jewelry and her angel on it, white lights and blue and silver baubles,” Janelle said, noting that her grandmother Nancy Weigand passed away.

Brian and Aurora DeWitt brought their sons Oliver, 6, and Lyle, 3, to pick a tree at Buck Run.

For the first time, the Pine Grove couple took home a 7-foot Korean fir whose needles have an attractive silver underside. Commonly used as a decorative garden tree, it is becoming increasingly popular as a Christmas tree.

However, the DeWitts acknowledged that they had little to do with the choice of tree. Oliver, who is in first grade, made the choice.

When asked why he picked that tree, Oliver tactfully replied, “It’s not too big and not too small.”

McDowell, pastor of St. Paul UCC in Wayne Twp., sees the care that families took in choosing their trees as a sign that the importance of Christmas endures.

“Christmas brings a sense of hope,” he said. “It celebrates the spread of love in a world that badly needs it.”

Contact the author: [email protected]; 570-628-6007