Oregon still nation’s leading producer of Christmas trees

More trees sold in 2008, but at a lower average price
By Oregon Dept. of Ag

The latest survey of Oregon’s Christmas tree industry shows once again why the production and sale of the state’s eighth ranked commodity is so economically important. Despite many current and future challenges, Oregon’s growers remain ahead of the pack when it comes to US production of Christmas trees.

“Oregon’s Christmas tree industry generates a great deal of economic activity, and this latest survey continues to prove it,” says Gary McAninch, supervisor of the Oregon Department of Agriculture’s Nursery and Christmas Tree Programs. “Our inspectors know very well how important the industry is since they are the ones who certify the trees are clean and ready for shipment. It will only be a few more weeks before the first trees of the season will be inspected and shipped out.”

For the record, Oregon remains number one in US production of Christmas trees with 7.34 million trees sold last year at a value of nearly $110 million. The number of trees sold increased by 282,000 from 2007. The comprehensive survey results compiled by the Oregon Agricultural Statistics Service offer other detailed information about the industry such as the number of workers in the industry, which species account for the most sales, and the destination of Oregon Christmas trees in 2008.

The survey influences the planting strategies of Oregon Christmas tree growers. As they see the number and type of trees being sold each year, they can make a plan based on a projection- something that may be more art than science given that a lot can happen over the course of the usual six or seven years it takes before a tree is harvested.

For 2008, the statistics look good, considering the impact of the national recession.

“We’ve seen it before where sales generally are strong in down economies,” says Bryan Ostlund, executive director of the Pacific Northwest Christmas Tree Growers Association. “We had a nice bump in sales last year.”

During tough economic times, people tend to stay more at home over the holidays and enjoy a traditional celebration that includes a Christmas tree. However, even though more Oregon trees were sold last year, they tended to be less expensive and more often smaller than usual.

The latest survey shows a drop in the average price of tree from $15.49 in 2007 to $15.01 last year. In 2003, the average price was as high as $17.06.
The survey shows the number of Oregon Christmas tree operations increased from 1,540 in 2007 to 1,780 in 2008. Acreage in Christmas tree production grew from 61,850 to 64,500 the past two years.

The number of growers is a bit misleading, according to Ostlund. He believes many of the growers tracked by the survey are smaller operators. When it comes to the more significant bigger commercial operators, there are actually fewer.

“It’s the typical aging nature of the American farmer- the Christmas tree industry is no different,” says Ostlund. “We have seen some consolidation of operations the past couple of years as well.”

On the labor side, the number of workers in the industry dropped from 9,155 to 8,475. However, total wages increased from $33.4 million to $37.5 million.

The survey shows Clackamas County as the state’s top producer with $33.2 million in sales from 19,000 acres of Christmas trees. Polk County is now number two at $22.4 million from 9,900 acres. Marion County is number three at $22 million from 13,900 acres.

Since it would take every man, woman, and child in Oregon purchasing at least two trees each to cover the annual harvest, Oregon must sell Christmas trees to other states and countries. The survey shows that the top destination continues to be California, responsible for 45 percent of all sales in 2008. A combination of western states that includes Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Alaska, and Hawaii is responsible for 10 percent of all sales. The Gulf States region recorded nine percent of last year’s sales. The Atlantic states recorded four percent and the State of Washington was responsible for three percent of sales. Oregon itself bought only eight percent of all Christmas trees sold last year- down from 12 percent in 2007.

Oregon Christmas trees can be found in numerous international markets, but Mexico remains the biggest customer. The survey shows that 16 percent of Oregon’s Christmas trees are shipped south of the border to Mexico, which is an increase from 11 percent in 2007. Tension over trade issues could affect this year’s sales.

As expected, the survey confirms that Oregon’s Christmas tree industry is dominated by two major species- Douglas fir and Noble fir. Together, the two species once again accounted for 92 percent of all Christmas tree sales last year.  Douglas fir has long since been the bread and butter of the industry in Oregon, but Noble fir nearly caught up this past year in the number of trees sold. The actual plantings of Noble fir have outpaced Douglas fir every year since 2002. That makes for an unusual projection.

“We find ourselves today in a position, as those inventories work through the cycle, where we are actually getting short on Douglas fir,” says Ostlund. “As we watch the new planting numbers, growers are coming back to a better balance between the fir species.”

With the total number of trees planted dropping from 9.7 million trees in 2002 to just a little more than 6 million trees in 2008, it’s likely that Oregon’s production numbers will take a dip over the next decade or so. While that shouldn’t jeopardize the state’s ranking as a leading Christmas tree producer, it’s a trend the industry will watch closely as it tries to match supply with demand.

For more information, contact Bruce Pokarney at (503) 986-4559.

Disclaimer: Articles featured on Oregon Report are the creation, responsibility and opinion of the authoring individual or organization which is featured at the top of every article.