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Christmas tree shortage in Southeast Wisconsin

Posted at 5:21 PM, Nov 30, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-30 18:21:54-05

WEST BEND, Wis. — If you want a cut-your-own Christmas tree, you better act fast. Christmas tree farms are seeing an unprecedented demand this holiday season.

“First weekend was extremely busy. I'll say Friday was the busiest I’ve ever seen in my life here. We actually had 155 cars on the road that came in our tree lot in 20 minutes," Dean Fechter, the owner of Christmas on Indian Lore in West Bend, said.

Fechter had to increase the number of cut-your-own trees available this year from 750 to more than 1,000.

Christmas Tree
Christmas on Indian Lore has about 30,000 Christmas trees on the property but only 1,000 can be harvested this year.

There are a few reasons this is happening. According to the National and American Christmas Tree Associations, there is a shortage due to an increased demand, climate change, and more people are buying trees early.

“Unprecedented weather events in the Pacific Northwest, including fires, drought, and heat waves, have impacted live Christmas tree crop yields, with some Oregon farmers reporting losing up to 90 percent of their crop this summer," the American Christmas Tree Association (ACTA) said.

This demand is something that was also prevalent in 2020.

"After taking the pulse of what growers experienced, which had been gathered by the National Christmas Tree Association board of directors representing state and regional grower associations across the country, we found that Christmas tree sales in 2020 occurred earlier. Sales grew at a more rapid pace and available inventories sold out in many cases," the National Christmas Tree Association (NCTA) said.

Christmas tree
Cut-your-own Christmas trees are in such high demand that some Wisconsin lots have already sold out for the season.

Fechter also has his own reasons. He said he has noticed more young families buying real trees. Plus, many of the longtime Christmas tree farmers are beginning to retire.

"The average Christmas tree farmer is 70 to 80-years-old in a lot of cases," Fechter said. “I can say within 25 miles of this location over the last six, seven years a 60 year business went out, 50, 35 and other ones. So that added pressure comes on to facilities.”

More business is great, but not always easy to keep up with. Despite having 25,000 to 30,000 trees on his farm, Fechter said that only some are ready to be cut down. Christmas on Indian Lore only allows trees that are 10 to 14 years old to be harvested. That means it's a years long wait until new inventory is available. Seemingly, this problem could persist for a few more years given these circumstances.

While working on this story, I reached out to multiple different Christmas tree farms. Many declined an interview given that they couldn't handle the extra attention with an already high demand.

Poplar Creek Tree Farm in New Berlin posted on its Facebook page saying that it had already sold out of trees.

This is something that the ACTA warned of in September stating, "In 2020, 94 million U.S. households celebrated Christmas by displaying a Christmas tree in their home. Of those trees, 85% were artificial, and 15% were live. Despite expectations of similar consumer demand in 2021, the Christmas tree industry could experience a shortage of both artificial and live trees."

Christmas trees are rising in price too.

"The economic instability caused by COVID-19 and the impacts of extreme weather have affected all parts of the global and U.S. supply chain, and Christmas trees are no exception. These challenges mean that there will be fewer live and artificial Christmas trees available this year, and those that are available will cost more than before," the ACTA said.

christmas tree

However, Frecht said that his trees are relatively cheap. His cut-your-own trees cost around $45 to $65. He said considering the work and years long investment that goes into each tree, that's a fair price.

"We hand plant everyone. We hand fertilize every tree every year to get them to grow greener," he said.

Frecht hopes that he can avoid these issues in the future, though. He plans on having about 5,000 trees ready for harvest in the coming years.

But until then, act fast if you want to cut down your own tree. Otherwise, they might all be gone.

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