Christmas tree trouble: Fires, weather, supply chain issues lead to higher prices, shortages at local lots

<p><p>Finding a Christmas tree this year has been a challenge for many families.</p></p><p><p>Consumers this year are facing a national shortage of artificial and real Christmas trees because of supply chain disruptions, along with wildfires and record-breaking heat in June that scorched some Northwest tree farms.</p></p><p><p>As a result, some locally-owned tree lots are selling out earlier than expected. Some owners are wondering if they’ll have enough inventory to last in the days leading up to Christmas.</p></p><p><p>Pike Brant owns and operates the Christmas Tree Guy, at 5605 E. Sprague Ave. in Spokane Valley, where he sells a variety of trees that he cuts from forests in Western Montana, as well as noble and grand fir trees sourced from farms in the Northwest.</p></p><p><p>Brant received dozens of inquiries from customers looking for trees earlier this holiday season, prompting him to open the tree lot before Thanksgiving – a move that he wouldn’t have considered in prior years.</p></p><p><p>“I opened up a few hours on the 20th because I was getting a lot of calls,” Brant said. “Then, I sold a few (trees) on the 24th before Thanksgiving … I had 65 calls before Thanksgiving.”</p></p><p><p>Brant was slightly affected by the national tree shortage this year as an order of 100 grand firs from a Western Washington farm did not arrive because crops sustained damage during the heat wave in the summer.</p></p><p><p>Brant supplemented the reduction in farm-grown trees with Alpine firs and others, he said.</p></p><p><p>“I’m somewhat insulated from the shortage in the fact that I sell wild Christmas trees that grow out in the forest. I’m one of the last guys that actually do that,” he said. “Technically, I can go out tomorrow and cut out a couple hundred wild trees. The only thing that limits me is fuel.”</p></p><p><p>Brant said, however, he had to slightly raise tree prices this year from $12 to $12.50 per foot due in part to an increase in labor and trucking costs, he said.</p></p><p><p>The average cost this year nationwide for a cut tree is $78 and $104 for an artificial tree, according to data from the American Christmas Tree Association.</p></p><p><p>Storybook Trees owner Emory Clark also sells a combination of forest and farm-grown trees at his pop-up lot in Airway Heights.</p></p><p><p>“While many lots have to rely on only what the tree farm business produces for them, I don’t have to. I can cut as many wild trees as I need,” Clark said, adding he struck a deal with Avista Utilities to purchase several trees that needed removal near power lines. “It was a win-win. It helped them get rid of a lot of small trees that really had no other use and we got some beautiful trees.”</p></p><p><p>The noble fir – a species native to the Pacific Northwest and a popular choice for Christmas trees – was in short supply this year, Clark said.</p></p><p><p>An order Clark placed this year was short 100 farm-grown trees, he said.</p></p><p><p>Storybook’s tree prices have mostly held steady for several years. However, Clark said he had to raise the price of noble firs by $1 per foot this year to recoup costs of obtaining them during the shortage.</p></p><p><p>The slight price increase did not deter customers looking for trees when Storybook’s lot opened last weekend, Clark said.</p></p><p><p>“The first day we were open, people were in there like gangbusters, much more than usual,” Clark said. “They didn’t spend much time haggling over prices. I think they are aware of the shortage, but it’s hard to say because this is only the 6th. My challenge is going to be to have trees as long as possible for people. I hope to stay open until the 21st.”</p></p><p><p>Hutton Settlement holds an annual Christmas Tree fundraiser where it sells forest and farm-grown trees for $35 and up. This year, Hutton sold out of trees in a week, said Jessica Laughery, Hutton’s director of community engagement and stewardship.</p></p><p><p>“I think what got people out in record pace this year is because we sold out so fast last year,” Laughery said.</p></p><p><p>Hutton, which relies on the Christmas fundraiser to support its educational programs, obtained 800 trees from Oregon-based Mt. Hood Tree Farm. It sought more, but that wasn’t an option due to the nationwide shortage, Laughery said.</p></p><p><p>“We have worked with the same farmer for years. Thankfully, we have a great reputation with him,” she said. “We were very fortunate that we were able to get the same stock as in years past.”</p></p><p><p>Dietz Christmas Tree Farm in Green Bluff sold out of a limited number of cut-your-own trees and closed early this season, owner Jim Dietz said.</p></p><p><p>The Dietz family is phasing out of the Christmas tree business after more than 40 years and inventory has been gradually dwindling as they downsize. Drought is another reason for fewer available trees on the farm as seedlings that Dietz planted over the past few years did not make it, he said.</p></p><p><p>“If I had the trees, I could have had record sales last year and probably this year, too,” he said.</p></p><p><p>Dietz also has noticed soaring demand this holiday season for Christmas trees, which he began selling before Thanksgiving on a reservation-only basis.</p></p><p><p>“Maybe that’s part of the reason why there’s a shortage – there are only so many trees available,” he said. “I saw the increase (in demand) last year because of COVID. Everyone wanted to get outside and I feel that people are trying to get back to doing things with family, and getting a Christmas tree from a farm is one of those things they can do together.”</p></p>