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Pining for a real tree? National Christmas tree shortage affecting some local suppliers

The Grinch is not to blame for the lack of Christmas trees available this year.

Instead, the national Christmas tree shortage is caused primarily by the recession that began in the late 2000s and ended in the early 2010s. According to GWD Forestry, which connects investors with forestry projects around the world, the shortage could last through 2025.

Kim Kuipers, an owner of the Kuiper Family Farm in Maple Park, grows Christmas trees on her farm, but also has pre-cut trees delivered from a farm in North Carolina. In North Carolina, Christmas tree farms were affected not only by the recession, but also by wildfires and droughts last year.

“We’re having a shortage of Christmas trees this year and will probably continue to have a shortage for the next few years because big commercial growers cut the number of trees they planted during the recession,” Kuipers said. “Now is when the trees would be mature enough for cutting and selling.”

The National Christmas Tree Association’s website states that the current tight supply results from fewer trees being planted seven to 10 years ago.

The combination of excess supply at the time and the recession both pushed prices downward and forced growers to leave the business. Recent price increases are due to a tighter supply of Christmas trees of harvestable size

According to the NTCA, Americans spent a total of $2.04 billion on Christmas trees last year, up from $1.32 billion in 2015. The average prices consumers polled by the NCTA spent per tree has also been on the rise. In 2013, the average buyer reported spending $35.30 on a Christmas tree; last year, they spent $74.70.

“You can definitely tell that we’re suffering the effects of the shortage because the trees aren’t as tall as they have been in the past,” Kuipers said. “We paid more for the trees, so the price increase will trickle down to our customers as well.”

Kuipers said she lost 300 mature trees this year that sporadically turned brown and more than 1,000 trees died during the drought and hot summer of 2012.

In addition to growing his own trees, Bob Faivre, owner of Camelot Christmas Tree Farm in DeKalb, receives pre-cut trees from Michigan, where tree numbers are down mostly because of drought issues. Faivre said that weather, not the economy or the recession, hit his farm the hardest in recent years. He also has seen an increase of customers after tree farms in Oregon and Downers Grove closed.

“We had a drought several years ago, and that is affecting us now,” Faivre said. “It takes seven to 10 years for trees to mature to 8- to 9-foot height, so problems and issues show up years down the road, not now. A few years ago, it was difficult finding seedlings to purchase, because there was a drought in Pennsylvania, where we usually get our seedling supply from. We don’t see all of the effects until many years later.”

Both Kuipers Family Farm and Camelot Christmas Tree Farm ended their choose and cut Christmas tree option last weekend to help keep tree stock numbers up for future years, allowing time for younger and smaller trees to mature.

Local Christmas tree lots have not had the same shortage issues as tree farms. Rob Wessels of Wessels Family Farm’s tree lot in DeKalb and Al Haseman, owner of the Splash of Color tree lot in Sycamore, both said the national tree shortage has not affected their tree sales. Both receive their Christmas trees from farms in Wisconsin.

“The shortage really hasn’t been an issue for us,” Wessels said. “We have had the same tree prices the last few years and there hasn’t been any effects yet.”

Haseman said he has had to minimally increase the cost of trees because of the quality of trees he received this year.

“The demand for trees has remained the same, but we received shorter and younger trees this year,” he said. “Prices are reflecting that. We sold out of our tallest trees within the first week.”

Both Wessels’ and Haseman’s lots will remain open until they sell out of trees, usually a few days before Christmas.

Bryan Jensen of DeKalb purchased a 7-foot balsam fir tree at Haseman’s lot with his girlfriend Ellyn Clark and daughters, 10-year-old Faith and 4-year-old Gabriella.

“We want to have a fresh Christmas tree every year, it’s part of our tradition,” Jensen said. “For me, the best part of Christmas is gathering together with family to decorate the tree while making Christmas cookies and ornaments.”

Bryan Faivre, an owner of Camelot Christmas Tree Farm, said his family’s Christmas tradition is to help other families celebrate their Christmas traditions.

“You may not remember the individual tree each year, but you will remember the experience of going to pick out and bring the tree home,” Bryan Faivre said. “A Christmas tree is more than branches and needles, it’s an age-old family tradition.”

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