Oregon Christmas tree growers poised for busy season, as pandemic forces holidays at home

CO2 Coalition note: Coalition Director Gordon Fulks, Ph.D. comments on the article below.

“When you say “our climate continues to warm” in discussing Christmas tree farming, you have obviously not heard of the strong La Nina that has been building in the equatorial Pacific off of the coast of Peru:

November 2020 La Niña update: just us chickens | NOAA Climate.gov
La Niña strengthened over October, with both the tropical Pacific Ocean and the atmosphere clearly reflecting La Niña conditions. Forecasters estimate at least a 95% chance La Niña will last through the winter, with a 65% chance of it hanging on through the spring.. The October sea surface temperature anomaly (departure from the long-term average) in the Niño 3.4 region of tropical Pacific …www.climate.gov

“The consequences for planet Earth are a cooling, similar but opposite to the warming we have recently experienced locally and across the globe.  Major El Ninos occurred in 1998, 2010, and 2016, with 1998 producing the highest Global Temperature and 2016 the highest Global Temperature Anomaly.  Here is a plot of the anomaly, that is, the monthly departure from average.

“The El Nino of 2016 was unusual because the effects lasted over several years.  The global satellite temperature record does not yet show the effects of the building La Nina, because it typically takes a couple of months for tropical sea surface changes to show up in the lower troposphere.  But they will.  The National Weather Service is already predicting 25% more snow for the Northwest east of the Cascades.

“Note that the entire satellite record of temperature anomalies shows the powerful effect of our oceans (and large volcanic eruptions).  That is because our oceans contain the vast majority of mobile heat on this planet.  The first ten feet of our oceans contain as much heat as the entire atmosphere.  No wonder they dominate our climate.

“The conclusion that you should understand is that the most likely climate change over the next few years is cooling not warming.

“In any case, the Earth will surely continue on the roller-coaster ride evident in the NASA data for the satellite era, because we live on a planet with vast oceans and atmosphere that are never in equilibrium.”

By Jamie Hale

Christmas tree growers in Oregon are preparing for a busy holiday season, as people look for a brighter ending to a particularly difficult year.

Last year’s recession-hindered fields yielded fewer trees leading to a dwindling supply come the holidays, but this year is already looking promising for local Christmas tree farms, which anticipate a busy season ahead.

Tom Norby, president of the Oregon Christmas Tree Growers Association and owner of the Trout Creek Tree Farm in Corbett, said that while the Christmas tree inventory might still be a little tight for 2020 (especially for trees more than seven feet tall), he didn’t expect there would be any serious shortages – even after considering that more people than usual may be looking to buy trees.

The ongoing coronavirus pandemic will undoubtedly force more Oregonians to avoid traveling for the holidays, which could lead to more people setting up their own trees at home. Cheery Christmas decorations are also a way to brighten up what has otherwise been a grim 2020.

“People, with this weird year that we’ve had, they’re just looking for something a little normal,” Norby said.

Many local farms have reported a rush of early business this year, he said, indicating that Oregonians are eager to get their holiday decorations up early.

Alison Bruns, owner of the Misty Ridge Tree Farm in Oregon City, said she opened her field early for U-cut this year after people started asking for trees a week before Thanksgiving. Her wholesale customers picked up their orders early as well.

But with COVID-19 still dangling overhead, a certain amount of uncertainty remains, she said. An outbreak traced back to a U-cut farm, for example, could be devastating to local farms, which has led to farms to take precautions like limiting crowd sizes and making one-way paths through their lots.

“It’s a little scary not knowing what’s going to happen,” Bruns said. “We only have this one chance per year to make this money.”

While some farms have opted against opening for U-cut this year, the majority are seeing it as a safe holiday tradition, Norby said – and an opportunity to turn a profit.

Chal Lundgren, a Christmas tree specialist at Oregon State University, said prices for trees typically increased every year, with average prices more than doubling from $36.50 in 2008 to $78 in 2018. Due to a supply shortage in 2019, he said, prices increased more than usual, and this year, another modest price bump is expected.

“It’s very supply and demand oriented,” Lundgren said of the Christmas tree industry. “If demand stays the same, you would expect prices to go up, certainly not go down.”

Last year’s price increase was a boon for big-time producers like McKenzie Farms, one of Oregon’s largest Christmas tree empires, which said it made a record profit in 2019. Unlike local farms that sell to individuals and small businesses, McKenzie Farms ships trees to big box stores around the country, harvesting 800,000 to 1 million trees each year from its 198 fields planted between Estacada and Monroe.

McKenzie “Ken” Cook, chairman and former owner of McKenzie Farms, said profits this year will be partially offset by the additional costs of labor and shipping, which he says have increased due to the pandemic.

“It won’t be as good as last year, but it will be a profitable year for the growers,” Cook said. “The demand is certainly ahead of last year.”

The most in-demand trees tend to be noble firs and Nordmann firs, which are hardier than other species like the Douglas fir, and can last inside a home for several months. Oregon farms harvest those trees by the millions, but as they look to plant the next generation for harvest a decade from now, they may be competing for seedlings with Oregon foresters looking to replant forests destroyed by wildfires, Lundgren said.

That’s one of a myriad concerns that Christmas tree growers face as our climate continues to warm.

Hot summers put stress on the trees, which shed needles in response. Unstable weather patterns can also be problematic, as dense fog and heavy rains can hinder harvests come fall.

And then there’s the wildfires themselves, which this year came perilously close to many tree farms. Norby said he only heard of one farm that burned, and another field that was partially scorched.

Any year that turns out profitable is a good one, he said, as any long-term concerns are balanced out by a steady demand for Christmas trees each fall.

“All you can do is just hope for the best,” Norby said. “It’s a gamble, but we’re gambling all the time. We’re farmers, that’s what we do.”

This article appeared on the OregonLive website at https://www.oregonlive.com/business/2020/11/oregon-christmas-tree-growers-poised-for-busy-season-as-pandemic-forces-holidays-at-home.html


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