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Supply chain issues, climate change creating shortage of Christmas trees

For some, it wouldn’t be the holiday season without the fresh piney scent of a live Christmas tree in the living room. But this year, that may be harder to come by. KPBS North County multimedia reporter Alexander Nguyen explains.

On a rainy Thursday afternoon, Joseph Hoey and his family were at the Pinery Christmas Trees lot in Del Mar picking out a tree. He was with his wife, daughter and granddaughters.

"We actually come here every year," he said.

The Hoeys started looking for their tree a little later this year than usual. They usually buy their trees at the end of November.

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"I think there's a lot less than it was last year or the year before," Hoey said.

He's not imagining things. The Pinery lot in Del Mar is usually filled with trees at this time of year. But now it's half empty.

A "sold" tag on a tree at the Pinery Christmas Trees lot in Del Mar, Calif., Dec. 9, 2021.
Alexander Nguyen / KPBS
A "sold" tag on a tree at the Pinery Christmas Trees lot in Del Mar, Calif., Dec. 9, 2021.

"The big problem this year is there is definitely a shortage of Christmas trees. 100%," Pinery's owner Mike Osborne said. "Not so much in the smaller stuff, but in the bigger stuff."

Part of the reason for the shortage is due to severe weather this summer in the Pacific Northwest where most of the Christmas trees are grown. In June and July, the area experienced an extreme heat wave linked to climate change that sparked several fires.

"A lot of the Noble firs that were ready to go to market this year, they got burned," Osborne said. "And so a lot of trees that were tagged to go to market this year in the Southern California area, were not able to go."

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Oregon farmers reported losing up to 90% of their crop this summer according to the American Christmas Tree Association (ACTA), an industry trade group.

Another reason for the shortage: pent-up demand for Christmas trees because of the pandemic. Last year was a huge year for sales, Osborne said.

"Because of COVID, because everybody was home, they weren't traveling, they weren't going anywhere, they weren't taking any vacations. And so everybody did buy that Christmas tree last year," he said. "They may have overcut a little bit last year, and they sold more trees up in the Pacific Northwest."

It takes about five to seven years before a tree can be harvested.

This year, the demand for Christmas trees remains high. Roughly 94 million homes, or 75% of American households, said they will display a tree for the holiday season, according to ACTA's survey. Nearly 6.5 million households said they will display both live and artificial trees this year.

The supply-chain disruption caused by the global pandemic is also affecting the supply of artificial trees, so expect to pay more for both live and artificial trees this year, the association said.

The price tag of a large Nordmann fir at the Pinery Christmas Trees lot in Del Mar, Calif., Dec. 9, 2021.
Alexander Nguyen / KPBS
The price tag of a large Nordmann fir at the Pinery Christmas Trees lot in Del Mar, Calif., Dec. 9, 2021.

The increase is mostly because of supply and demand, labor shortage and increased shipping cost, Osborne said.

Live Christmas trees costs have nearly doubled since 2015, according to the Department of Agriculture. This season, retailers are reporting a price hike of 20 to 30% for artificial trees.

After browsing around, the Hoeys finally picked out their Christmas trees.

"We usually get a 6- or 7-foot Nordmann," Joseph Hoey said. "But this year we got a Noble tree. So we like the trees here. They're always good quality."

His daughter, Victoria, picked out a smaller tree because she and her daughters live in a small apartment. But the lack of trees (and the rain) kind of dampened her Christmas spirit.

"I think it's just a little sad because Christmas is supposed to be a little bit bigger and brighter. But it's raining today, and it's not full of trees like most of the time when we come (to these) places," Victoria Hoey said. "I haven't been here before just this year, but usually when I go anywhere, there's lots of trees."

Osborne said most of his big trees have been sold, but there are still a lot of small and medium trees available.

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