McKenzie Farms tree sales soar during pandemic
The COVID-19 pandemic has slowed down many aspects of life, but a wholesale Christmas tree farm headquartered in Estacada is seeing the opposite effect.
Cubby Steinhart, co-owner of McKenzie Farms, estimated that the company's early-season Christmas tree sales are 20-40% ahead of where they were last year.
"The tree season has started early and stayed strong," he said. "It's been a fantastic early season."
In a typical year, McKenzie Farms ships between 800,000 trees to stores and lots across the United States and in Mexico. Steinhart predicted that number will significantly increase by the end of the 2020 season.
The company's biggest markets are in California, Florida, Georgia and Texas. In Oregon, their trees are often sold at Home Depot, Lowe's and Costco.
McKenzie Farms is headquartered near Springwater Road in Estacada. The company has more than 100 farms from Estacada to Monroe, south of Corvallis. They plant around one million trees each year.
Steinhart attributed this year's steep increase in sales to people staying home during the pandemic — whether it's remaining there day-to-day or not visiting relatives for the holidays to slow the spread of the virus.
"The biggest reasons are that people aren't going anywhere," he said. "Families aren't traveling for the holidays this year. If they travel normally, they're probably not going to buy a big tree, but now they're staying home. For people who don't normally travel, half of them haven't left their house. If you're in your house, what better thing to make you cheerful than a Christmas tree?"
Earlier in the year, Steinhart watched the sales of seasonal commodities such as Fourth of July fireworks and pumpkins to predict what the holiday tree season might look like. He noted that sales of both items were "off the charts," which he also attributed to people remaining at home during the pandemic.
"If there's been one good thing (about COVID-19), it's the best thing that's happened to garden businesses and seasonal items," he said.
During the pandemic shutdown, McKenzie Farms and similar operations were able to remain open because agriculture is classified as an essential business. Office employees have worked remotely when possible, and everyone working in-person wears face masks and has their temperature checked regularly.
The setup of the farm's shipping process has changed to ensure that employees can remain 6 feet apart from one another. Facilities are wiped down after the truck transporting the trees leaves, as well as at the start and end of the work day.
"It's presented its challenges, but we're proud of the way our people worked through it," Steinhart said, noting that the company has not fallen behind on orders.
Along with the COVID-19 pandemic, Oregon Christmas tree farmers have also dealt with numerous wildfires this year, including the Riverside and Dowty Road fires near Estacada, which combined burned more than 130,000 acres.
McKenzie Farms did not lose any trees to the fires, but some of the flames came close to the company's office building.
"We were really lucky with the fires," he said. "I've never been as scared as I was during the fires."
Though McKenzie Farms has seen a significant increase in sales this year, that doesn't necessarily mean they'll plant a similar number of trees next year.
"We never plant the number of trees that we sell," Steinhart said.
Because it takes Christmas trees approximately ten years to reach full size, it can be difficult to predict what the market will be like when they're ready to go.
"We're just another commodity. Only we vary by decade, not days," he added.
Christmas tree suppliers, including McKenzie Farms, came out of an oversupply several years ago. During the oversupply, it was difficult for growers to make a profit.
Steinhart predicted the tree market will be "tight but balanced" for the next several years.
"If we have another oversupply, it will probably start about seven years from now," he said.
One way that Steinhart determines how many trees to plant is by talking with other people in the business and watching how many new producers are entering the industry.
Focusing on 2020, Steinhart believes it will be "a record-breaking year."
"It will be an unbelievable year for real Christmas trees," he said.
A previous version of this story incorrectly stated the number of trees sold and planted annually by McKenzie Farms. The News regrets the error.
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