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O Tannenbaum, Where Art Thou? Alberta’s Christmas Tree Crunch

Increased demand and shrinking supply lead Albertans on a merry chase for the perfect Christmas tree

Have you grabbed your Christmas tree yet?

If you haven’t, you may end with a Charlie Brown or no tree!

Across Canada, but especially in Alberta, the demand for Christmas trees has soared while the supply has dwindled, leading to a noticeable shortage in popular varieties like Fraser firs.

This situation is prompting Albertans to explore alternative tree options. It’s also impacting local garden centers, retail chains, and non-profit organizations that rely on tree sales for fund-raising

Fraser firs, known for their durability and fullness, are a top choice for many during the festive season. 

These are the “Marilyn Monroes” of trees.

 As Shirley Brennan, executive director of the Canadian Christmas Trees Association, says, “Everybody wants a Fraser fir” because of their superior needle retention and full figure.

However, these trees are becoming harder to find, as most Christmas trees sold in Canada come from Central Canada and the East Coast.

Fewer Trees Than Ever

Deliveries to Alberta have decreased yearly as fewer trees make it to market.

Colin Atter, owner of Plantation Garden Centre, highlighted the ongoing nature of this shortage, noting that the supply is “less and less every year.”

Buy your tree and get a photo with Santa at Spruce It Up Garden Centre in Calgary on December 9 and 10 | Spruce It Up Garden Centre
Buy your tree and get a photo with Santa at Spruce It Up Garden Centre in Calgary on December 9 and 10 | Spruce It Up Garden Centre

Similarly, the president of Spruce it Up Garden Centre, Meryl Coombs, mentioned that his Center has shifted focus to selling Douglas firs from Western Canada, which are more affordable than the Fraser firs from Eastern Canada.

But even Douglas Fir production is down, and there are shortages of trees in BC, with fewer making their way to Alberta.

The reasons for the shortage are multifaceted. 

Rising shipping costs from East to West Canada, the decreasing number of farmers in the business, and the increasing land value are significant factors.

Coombs said that more farmers are leaving their jobs, and the cost of shipping trees is going up. These things are big reasons why there are fewer trees.

In a creative response to this shortage,  the Junior Forest Warden’s Christmas Tree Lot fundraiser in Calgary encourages locals to cut their own trees, aiding in forest thinning and promoting healthy forest growth.

Tim Watts, president of Calgary JFW, emphasized the ecological benefits of this practice, which allows lodgepole pine trees, abundant in Alberta, to reach a marketable size.

Despite these challenges, some garden centers have managed to secure a sufficient supply of trees.

The Plantation Garden Centre experienced a ‘Christmas miracle’ when it found a new supplier, allowing it to stock more trees than ever before. Tricia Katelnikoff, owner of Cobblestone Garden Centre in Calgary, replenished her inventory after a prolonged shortage.

A Troubling Trend.

The Canadian Christmas Trees Association reports a price increase of five to 20 percent for trees this year, mainly due to rising transportation costs. 

Environmental factors like forest fires, extreme heat, and droughts have affected tree growth across Canada, reducing tree farm acreage.

Statistics Canada data indicates a significant decline in tree farms over the past decade, with about 1,000 farms vanishing since 2011. 

This reduction in farms and the aging out of growers has resulted in a loss of around 8,000 hectares of Christmas tree farms nationwide.

Shirley Brennan notes, “In Alberta, I can tell you that you have lost 438 acres that are used for Christmas trees, which is only 60 Christmas tree farms in the whole province.”

As Albertans navigate this shortage, they are encouraged to think outside the box and consider alternative options.

Whether opting for different tree varieties or participating in local tree-cutting initiatives, options remain before you resort to that spindly Charlie Brown tree.

Plantation Garden Centres’ 2023 Tree Lot | Plantation Garden Centre
Plantation Garden Centres’ 2023 Tree Lot | Plantation Garden Centre

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