How the pandemic is impacting Oregon’s Christmas tree sales

Oregon

Supply and sales look strong, but customers should expect changes, particularly at U-cut lots

POLK COUNTY, Ore. (KOIN) — The Christmas season is well underway at Noble Mountain Tree Farm near Salem, where hundreds of thousands of trees are being cut, moved into trucks by helicopter, and shipped all over the world. While the coronavirus pandemic has changed some of the ways they do business, the industry as a whole looks promising, according to experts.

Noble Mountain is one of the largest Christmas tree farms in the entire world, with millions of fir and pine trees covering about 4,000 acres of land. General manager Bob Schaefer says they’re anticipating a very strong year based on how other holidays have performed.

“The first indicator for us is fireworks,” Schaefer said. This year, retailers said families spent a lot more on fireworks packages and bought them earlier in the season, he said. “People spending more time at home are changing their family traditions and actually developing more and different types of family traditions.”

Pumpkin sales skyrocketed in September, Schaefer said, another sign that people wanted to decorate earlier and enjoy the holiday season longer.

Even though Christmas is still weeks away, Noble Mountain is already well into its harvest and shipping season. The first loads of noble fir went to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates and China. Domestic shipping started this past week.

Many of the trees end up in chain stores such as Home Depot and Walmart and Schaefer said those companies are anticipating sales starting the weekend before Thanksgiving, instead of the usual Black Friday.

An employee stacks Christmas trees at Noble Mountain Tree Farm on Nov. 16, 2020 (Hannah Ray Lambert)

While commercial lots have had to change the way they work — grouping crews by household or family and using more trucks to transport people — customers are more likely to notice the effects of the pandemic on U-cut operations.

Some U-cut farms won’t open at all, like Northwest Portland’s Quail Creek Ranch. Some might take reservations only, and some will reduce or do away with amenities such as fire circles, gift stores, or Santa Claus visits, said Chal Landgren, a Christmas tree specialist with Oregon State University’s Extension Service.

If you want a U-cut tree, don’t wait until the last minute, Landgren advises.

“There will be a lot of demand on those farms that are open, and a lot of them closed early last year,” he said.

The early end to the 2019 season came after years of oversupply forced many growers out of the business, then some of the remaining U-cut farms ran out of mature trees and closed early.

“In the whole industry, we’ve lost probably 30% of the number of growers who are out there,” Landgren said.

It’s difficult to predict long-term impacts for tree sellers in the time of coronavirus, but Landgren told KOIN 6 News he expects the farms that don’t open this year will just wait for 2021. Others — including Landgren himself, who owns a small tree farm — are going the wholesale route this year, sending their crop to tree lots.

So while there will be plenty of trees to go around, customers who are looking to fire up the chainsaw or swing an axe should call U-cut farms early to make sure they get the experience they want, he said.

A man waits to hook a bundle of trees to a helicopter at Noble Mountain Tree Farm on Nov. 16, 2020 (Hannah Ray Lambert)

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