It turns out the mad rush for Christmas trees this year wasn’t caused by another social media hoax.

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This article was published 3/12/2021 (251 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

It turns out the mad rush for Christmas trees this year wasn’t caused by another social media hoax.

There really is a shortage.

As we go to press you will be hard pressed to find a nice tree in town.

On Friday, the yard at Paul’s Greenhouses on St. Mary’s Road, traditionally a great place to get high-end balsam fir, was sparsely dotted with stunted, spindly white spruce.

One customer jovially boomed, "I’ve been coming here for 30 years and I’m stuck with a Charlie Brown tree!"

Superstore on Sargent Avenue was sold right out on Friday and a store employee told a customer they received 50 per cent of their normal order and they won’t be getting any more.

<p>MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS </p>Robin Bryan with Christmas trees at Pete’s Trees in Winnipeg.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Robin Bryan with Christmas trees at Pete’s Trees in Winnipeg.

Norbert Turcotte, the proprietor of Pauls’ said his order from his Quebec supplier was cut by 30 per cent and prices were up 30 per cent.

Turcotte normally keeps selling until Dec. 14. He figures he’ll be all sold out by Sunday.

"Last Saturday was like a rock concert here. They were lined up down the street. It was, by far, the busiest day we have ever had," he said. "We sold as much in three days that usually takes us three weeks to sell."

Robin Bryan of Pete’s Trees on Westminster Avenue still has some nice trees, but he had to go to great lengths to find them.

"I’m talking about driving trucks out to northern Saskatchewan because we could not get the transport in. We had an opportunity and jumped at it and drove straight there and straight back," he said. "We may have trees but there was a lot of elbow grease that went into it."

Even most of the tree farms where people can cut their own trees are done for the year.

Mike Kisiloski who owns Country Pines Tree Farm near Tyndall said he’s already shut down for the year and because of the volume that was sold he might not be able to open next year.

<p>MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS </p>Robin Bryan of Pete’s Trees on Westminster Avenue had to go to great lengths to find Christmas trees.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Robin Bryan of Pete’s Trees on Westminster Avenue had to go to great lengths to find Christmas trees.

"It will take a number of years before I can get back into the choose-and-cut business again," he said.

Kisiloski said there used to be 15 Christmas tree farms in the area and now it’s down to four or five.

"I think everyone found out it was not all that profitable after a while," he said. "You have to take care of them for 10 years and then you’re only selling them for $30 of $40."

Kisiloski’s analysis may sound folksy, but it is one of the main reasons why there is a shortage of trees across North America.

Shirley Brennan, the executive director of the Canadian Christmas Trees Association, said, "With an aging population the Christmas tree farmers are not unlike other farmers where they are aging out and choosing retirement or, God forbid, passing away.’

That has meant a dramatic decline in the number of acres growing trees. According to Statistics Canada in 2011 there were 69,000 acres in production. In 2016 it was down to 59,000 and it has been going down ever since.

But this year’s shortage is also affected by spring frost in Nova Scotia and Quebec.

<p>MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS </p>According to Statistics Canada in 2011 there were 69,000 acres of Christmas trees in production. In 2016 it was down to 59,000 and it has been going down ever since.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

According to Statistics Canada in 2011 there were 69,000 acres of Christmas trees in production. In 2016 it was down to 59,000 and it has been going down ever since.

"Mother Nature is our silent partner and she is not really co-operating lately," Brennan said.

And the overall pandemic-cause supply chain disruption has not helped. Trucks have been diverted from hauling Nova Scotia fir trees across the country to deal with the backed up supply chain caused by the flooding in B.C. Brennan said his phone has been ringing off the hook from U.S. retailers looking for trees.

"I have nowhere to direct them," she said.

As an industry advocate she is a little defensive when discussing the price spike — some festive folks will be spending more than $100 for a Fraser Fir this year. She insists prices have not gone up — 20 per cent and more — solely because of supply and demand.

"It’s a 10-year labour of love for our farmers before they reap any benefit," she said. "Think about it… over that 10 years many things have gone up. Transportation costs have skyrocketed. Insurance for our farms has gone way up. Leased land is more expensive. And next year’s prices will go up again."

And meanwhile it seems that demand is going up. Farm-grown trees are 100 per cent bio-degradable so taking into account environmental concerns Christmas trees are a winner.

But considering that supply shortages are 10 years in the making — the time it takes to grow a Christmas tree — the same pressures on the market this year will only get worse.

"I’m not sure what I’ll have to do to get trees here next year but I’ll find a way," said Bryan.

martin.cash@freeress.mb.ca

Martin Cash

Martin Cash
Reporter

Martin Cash has been writing a column and business news at the Free Press since 1989. Over those years he’s written through a number of business cycles and the rise and fall (and rise) in fortunes of many local businesses.