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Ohio Christmas tree farmers face high demand and short supply

The entrance of Shawnee Trail Tree Farm with pre-cut Christmas trees lined up on the fence to the left.
Andrew Meyer
Ideastream Public Media
Empty rails at the Shawnee Trail Tree Farm in Hudson that would normally still have Christmas trees leaning against them on Tuesday, December 5, 2023. Tree farmers in Ohio and across the country are working to meet an increase in demand for real Christmas trees which began during the COVID-19 pandemic.

It may be more difficult to find that perfect Christmas tree in 2023 due to an ongoing tree shortage that began during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The pandemic brought with it a boom in business for many Christmas tree farmers since the farms presented a place families could visit safely.

"When we look at that COVID, ... more and more folks are going out to the farm. They continued to do that after the pandemic," Executive Director of the Ohio Christmas Tree AssociationValarie Graham said. "That's a good thing for growers here in the state of Ohio and growers across the country. However, it kind of put a pinch in the demand that we had for Christmas trees."

It takes nearly eight years after a sapling is planted before it is mature enough to sell, meaning farmers have to predict supply and demand eight years ahead.

Farmers like Will Stribrny, manager at Shawnee Trail Tree Farm in Hudson are still catching up to meet the increase in demand.

"It's just a matter of planting as many trees as possible and trying to keep them alive," he said. "If every single one of my trees survived that I planted, we would be just fine. We'd have more trees than we need. It's just a matter of figuring out how to kind of cut ... your losses."

If farmers at Shawnee Trail Tree Farm were able to plant a thousand trees, they'd only expect about 40% to make it to the ideal, six-foot size and shape to be able to sell, Stribrny said. About 20% die in the first year, while another 20% just wouldn't have that "perfect" tree look.

"Some people like something a little quirky," he said. "One family comes out and they walk around our whole farm and they find the ugliest tree, and that's their tradition."

Trees can be affected by fluctuating weather patterns like heavy rain and periods of drought. But this year provided excellent growing conditions for trees at Shawnee Trail Tree Farm, Stribrny said.

"We had some good rain in the early spring and then it kind of dried up until, like, late June," he said. "Then we had good rain from June really until about, like, the second week of August."

The limited supply is a national issue, Graham said, since a lot of tree farms added events and amenities to bring in business year round.

"The agritourism, the time around the holidays, has picked up just because that's an extra sale," she said. "That's an extra thing that brings that family out to the farm, whether it be going through the gift shop, enjoying the hot chocolate, visiting with Santa, petting the reindeer, and the list of things could go on."

Graham said she expects things to level out in the next couple of years.

In the meantime, a good rule of thumb for customers is to avoid cutting down trees shorter than 6-feet to help maintain the supply for years to come.

Zaria Johnson is a reporter/producer at Ideastream Public Media covering the environment.