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KAI RYSSDAL: Consider the Christmas Tree — Douglas Fir or Noble — it is, in essence, a commodity. Grown, harvested, bought and sold by the millions. Farmers in Oregon provide about a quarter of all the Christmas trees we use in this country — seven million of them sent to big box stores and tree lots west of the Mississippi River alone. It’s not exactly a recession-proof industry, but it’s pretty close.
Amelia Templeton reports it’s all about supply and demand.
Amelia Templeton: It’s a week before Christmas, and Bob Schaefer is driving around the fields, figuring out what he has left to sell. Schaefer manages Noble Mountain Tree Farm, one of one the largest Christmas tree suppliers in the country.
Bob Schaefer: There’s some drop dead gorgeous trees out there that are not finding a home.
Schaefer supplies trees wholesale to Wal-Mart and Home Depot. Sales are a little better than last year, but he’s been forced to drop his prices 40 percent. He says market is flooded with trees this year, particularly noble firs.
Chal Landgren is a Christmas Tree specialist at Oregon State University. He’s cutting down a tree for a high-school fundraiser. He says that at the beginning of the decade, farmers saw the noble fir as the hot new tree.
Landgren: It takes us about eight to nine years to grow these trees and you can’t back up the clock. They’re going to get too tall and you can’t keep them over for the next year.
Because of the recent glut smaller farmers — particularly newcomers — haven’t been able to compete. With an oversupply of trees also predicted for next Christmas season, many are burning trees or feeding them to wood chippers in order to get something new into the ground.
Chal Landgren: We have probably somewhere around $12 invested in each tree by the time it’s loaded on a truck, and there are people this year selling trees for less than that.
For shoppers west of the Mississippi, there’s an upside to this story: You should be able to get a tall fresh Christmas tree for $5-10 less than what you paid a few years ago. Just remember, your ceilings are probably still only eight feet high.
From Silverton, Ore., I’m Amelia Templeton for Marketplace.
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