Statewide and locally, more people are purchasing their Christmas trees from lots than in recent years

by: RON HALVORSON - Future Farmers of America's Dan McNary examines a Christmas tree at the FFA lot.

It’s not too late to get your Christmas tree, but you probably shouldn’t put it off much longer.

One tree lot expected to run out of trees soon.

“We’ve sold really well,” said Future Farmers of America’s (FFA) Dan McNary, as he soaked in the heat from his warming fire last week. “This is day 10 for us, and basically what you see on the lot — there’s maybe 35 total trees — is kind of what we have left.”

So far, it’s been a good year for all three large tree lots in Prineville.

“It’s been surprising,” said Pam Grover, of Fox’s Christmas Trees, “because with the roads, I figured a lot of people could get up to the hills to cut trees, but actually, we’ve had a lot of people come in, say it’s just easier to come in, (and) buy a tree.”

Grover’s 35 years’ experience in the family’s retail Christmas tree business - she was born a Fox - gives weight to her observation. And while she thought the local sales were “a hair slower than last year,” the big week was yet to come.

It was different at the Fox lot in Redmond.

“In Redmond, (it’s) a lot busier than last year,” she said. “It’s been trailer load after trailer load.”

Sales are about where they were last year, said James Wilson, scoutmaster of Boy Scout Troop 28. He marveled that even this month’s bitter cold didn’t deter customers”On Saturday (Dec. 7), when we closed up, it was -18, and we were still selling trees,” the veteran of a decade of tree sales said. “I can think of a lot better things to do than buying a tree when it's -18 outside.”

The Arctic blast — which froze many trees — was a special challenge for both the lots and the customers. Grover said that when a tree gets frozen, it needs to be put somewhere where it can thaw slowly. Otherwise, it will drop the needles.

“If you take it, and it’s frozen and stick it right in the house, you’re going to lose every needle. It’s just going to go brittle on you.”

She said they had already replaced six trees for customers — a standard practice for Fox’s. Wilson said the Boy Scouts put their trees both in a trailer and offsite in a warehouse to protect against freezing.

McNary employed a different tactic.

“The big thing is keeping the trees warm, so that they’re open, so that people can see what they actually are,” he said. “So we’re using some propane heat just to keep the trees thawed.”

Customers shouldn’t see much of a price increase compared to last year, but this may change, according to Bryan Ostlund, executive director of the Pacific Northwest Christmas Tree Association.

“Wholesale prices are up just a bit this year, a dollar, maybe two dollars a tree,” he said. “Probably here in Oregon, we won’t see much impact at all on the retail prices.”

In excess of 10 million trees were planted in Oregon from 2001-2003, when prices were high, Ostlund explained, but the demand has been only 70 percent of that. The result has been a recent glut of trees on the market and subsequent low prices.

“We go through a seven-year cycle,” he said, “and we’re just now coming out of a downturn. Prices have been soft. (There will be) a little strengthening this year, and hopefully that continues for 2014.”

McNary said FFA’s retail prices have stayed the same for the last three years, in large part because their costs have stayed the same. Wilson said the Boy Scouts have been able to avoid price increases as well, but only by changing their wholesalers.

“We switched suppliers two years ago because we were getting pretty good incremental increases,” Wilson said. “Our new supplier held last year’s prices over for us this year, but I don’t think a lot of places have been doing that.”

Fox’s is also doing what they can to hold down prices, according to Grover, including buying what she called less-expensive “seconds.” Still, even the seconds are costing more than last year, as are the higher-end tree species.

“We’re paying a little higher this year than we did last year, for the Nobles, and the Nordmann,” she said. “The Doug fir, about the same.”

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