Christmas tree sellers set for high sales | CraigDailyPress.com

Christmas tree sellers set for high sales

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Most Oregonians may be just getting around to tossing out their moldy jack-o-lanterns, but the Christmas season is already here for tree growers.

Oregon is the largest U.S. producer of Christmas trees. The state’s 761 licensed Christmas tree growers expect to harvest 8.5 million trees this year, an industry that accounts for $101 million annually.

That’s about 23 percent of the estimated 36 million trees produced nationally.

About 1.3 million of the Oregon trees will be exported outside the United States, mostly to Mexico and Asia.

At Jim and Shirley Heater’s Silver Mountain Christmas Trees farm in Sublimity, crews began harvesting trees earlier this month, and have already began sending shipments to Mexico.

The market has been strong this year, especially for higher-end noble firs, Jim Heater said. ”People seem willing to spend a little bit more this year,” he said.

Wholesale prices for a 6- or 7-foot noble fir range from $18 to $22. A Douglas fir of the same size goes for about $10. Once that reaches Los Angeles or Honolulu, it can sell for $75.

Trees sold in Japan can go for about $200 apiece.

Douglas fir trees continue to account for the bulk of trees shipped, but noble firs are catching up, Heater said.

”There’s not enough supply for the nobles,” he said. Demand for noble firs has steadily grown in the past few years, but growers don’t have much flexibility when it comes to delivering more product.

It takes about a decade to grow a noble fir to a marketable size, and about seven years for Douglas firs.

Pronzini Christmas Tree Farm owner Jon Pronzini said the increased demand for noble firs has strengthened prices slightly.

”This has been a phenomenal year for everyone,” Pronzini said.

Like most farmers, Pronzini contracted sales for all of his trees by September.

Demand for trees grown in the Pacific Northwest continues to grow for domestic markets, said Bryan Ostlund of the Pacific Northwest Christmas Tree Association.

”I have real outlets in California calling me and saying they can’t find any trees right now,” Ostlund said.

Silver Mountain Christmas Tree Farm employs about 200 workers during the season’s high point, which takes place the last week of November and the first week of December.

The farm will ship about 250,000 trees this year to Mexico, Japan, Singapore, Guam, Hong Kong, Canada and throughout the United States.

Trees on the 2,700-acre farm are cut with a chainsaw, picked in bundles by helicopter and then processed for shipment.

A machine conveys the trees upright and shakes them to rid the tree of loose or dead needles and any other debris.

The trees are drilled to fit lot-style spike tree stands, bound, compressed and strapped to pallets for shipment.

When everything runs on schedule, a tree can be shipped within 24 to 48 hours of being cut.