DALLAS — Christmas trees, particularly the Noble fir variety, may be in short supply nationwide this year, but local tree farm operators say there should be plenty of trees to choose from this holiday season.
If you have your heart set on a Noble, though, you might want to start you search early this year.
“We are going to run low on Noble firs,” said Don Beal, of Beal’s Christmas Tree Farm in Dallas. “We haven’t been able to replace any for the last three seasons.”
He said the farm lost most of its young Noble fir trees due to recent hot, dry summers.
“We lost 95 percent,” Beal said. “That was a tough.”
The best-selling Christmas tree variety has had a difficult run lately.
There wasn’t a good crop of Noble fir cones from 2001 to 2015, said Bob Schafer, at Noble Mountain Tree Farms in Polk County. No cones mean no seeds, no seedlings and no trees, he said.
Schafer said production of Noble firs on his farm is down 25 percent this year. The farm has tried to fill the hole with other varieties, such as Douglas fir, the second-highest Christmas tree in sales.
Still, the result has been scaling back on the number of customers the wholesale grower can serve.
“It makes for easier harvesting season,” Schafer said. “We’ve cut out our oversees business. It’s nice to say you ship to the Pacific Rim, but we wanted to take care of our U.S. customers first and foremost.”
The business won’t be shipping to Texas this year either — the Lone Star state is as far east as is cost-efficient to ship — and California will be getting a different mix of trees, including fewer Noble firs.
That may be the situation for several years to come, industry wide.
Ken Brown, co-owner of Westwinds Farm in Dallas, said that an over-abundance of trees over the last decade and resulting lower prices drove growers out of the market or forced them to plant fewer trees.
That trend has caught up to the industry.
“There has been an excess of trees for 10 years,” Brown said. “Last year, it turned around, and it turned around really fast.”
The good news is 2016 marked the first year of healthy Noble fir crop, Schafer said.
“We are getting some seed in the pipeline, more in line with what the industry is used to,” Schafer said.
It will take about seven years for those young trees to grow to Christmas-tree standard — about six-feet tall — though.
Noble Mountain may be something of an exception to that as Schafer anticipates higher production in the variety over the next few years on his farm.
In the meantime, the three growers said there’s a look-a-like alternative to Noble firs that is gaining in popularity: Nordmann or Turkish fir.
“It’s a deeper green, with silver on the bottom of the needles,” Schafer said.
He said the tree would be even more popular if seeds were easier to obtain — the tree originates from mountains in Turkey and Russia.
“We would sell more if we could plant more,” Schafer said. “It’s the new kid on the block, and sales are really going up.”
Beal said he will suggest the Nordmann to people looking for Nobles in short supply.
“The Nordmann, they are just beautiful trees,” he said. “To the untrained eye, they are often mistaken for Noble firs.”
Beal said they have another advantage, especially for his farm.
“They grow better on the valley floor,” he said. “Nobles are better at higher elevation.”
For that reason, Brown has switched over to growing Nordmann trees for his U-cut farm.
“It’s a little harder to grow,” he said. “It takes a year longer to get to Christmas-tree size.”
But he said he worries less about them suffering sunburn or current-year needle necrosis, a disease affecting new growth, turning the needles brown.
The 2017 Christmas tree season and its production shortage nationwide may result in higher prices for trees — even Beal’s had to raise prices modestly this year after keeping costs down over the last few seasons — so competition from reusable trees could be a concern.
Schafer said he isn’t overly worried customers will go the artificial route because they can’t find the real tree they are looking for.
He said buying a real tree creates an experience for the customer that artificial trees can’t.
“I think the fragrance of the real tree is probably the thing that will be bring them back,” he said. “A lot of families like the experience of going to a tree lot and picking out their tree and the fragrance. I’m not too concerned about losing customers to artificial trees.”
Westwinds and Beal’s open to public on Friday and say they are ready for those who make a tradition of hunting for the perfect tree.
“Everybody is looking forward to the Christmas season. Trees are going to be everywhere,” Beal said. “We’re open officially the day after Thanksgiving, but we’ve had people come get their trees early, which is fine with us.”