Christmas tree sales appear strong despite sluggish regional economy

POLK COUNTY -- The profitability of Oregon's 2008 Christmas tree harvest won't be known for another few weeks. But based on his conversations with growers thus far, the prognosis is "a mixed bag,



POLK COUNTY -- The profitability of Oregon's 2008 Christmas tree harvest won't be known for another few weeks. But based on his conversations with growers thus far, the prognosis is "a mixed bag," said Chad Landgren, Christmas tree specialist for the Oregon State University Extension Service.

"Most started the season wishing they could sell more trees, and that buyers would return calls," Landgren said, noting the attitude is "more hopeful" now that the post-Thanksgiving buying frenzy has arrived.

The other scenario is that the economic downturn will actually provide a boost to farmers, he continued.

"If people aren't traveling as much, it could (motivate them) toward buying trees and having a traditional family Christmas," said Gene Carson, manager of Holiday Tree Farms' Red Prairie Division southwest of Dallas. "It's kind of what we're keeping our fingers crossed for."

Oregon is the nation's top producer of Christmas trees, and sold about 8 million in 2007, according to the Oregon Department of Agriculture. Many trees end up in the southwestern United States or Mexico.

Polk County ranks fourth among Oregon's top producing counties, with 8,300 acres devoted to the commodity and 1.1 million trees sold here, according to the United States Department of Agriculture.

Landgren said noble fir prices have dropped somewhat because of an oversupply, while grand and Douglas firs have been reasonably stable.

Brett Hagedorn of Bigfoot Trees in Dallas said the wholesale cost of a high-grade, 7- to 8-foot tall noble is about $22.50, while Douglas and grand firs might fetch $11 because of an oversupply.

Landgren said harvest weather conditions have been favorable, except for fog, which sometimes grounds helicopters used to transport trees for processing.

Factors that have hindered the harvest in the past, labor availability and fuel, haven't been issues this year.

But exporting trees to Mexico, which takes 14 percent of Oregon's harvest, has been a problem, Landgren said.

"One issue is getting trucks inspected and certified as free from disease and insects," he said. "The other issue is protectionism ... Mexico is trying to protect 'local' growers because there's a budding Christmas tree industry there."

Holiday Tree Farms, which has operations all over the state and 3,500 acres in Polk County, sold almost 1 million trees in 2007, Carson said.

"We're scheduled to sell the same amount as last year," Carson said.



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