Christmas trees go fast as families head out to farms to cut their own

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ROLLING PRAIRIE, Indiana — You’re not alone if the doldrums of the coronavirus pandemic have you longing more than ever for a fun, old-fashioned family Christmas.

The good news is that one timeless tradition — the excursion to cut down a real Christmas tree — is a low-risk activity. But with demand surging, you may be running out of time to snag the perfect fir, pine or spruce.

Christmas tree growers say business is booming, leaving trees in short supply, as families seek out safe ways to celebrate the holiday, get out of the house and add some joy to what has been a bummer of a year.

“I can’t tell you the number of customers I’ve talked to that said, ‘we’ve had an artificial tree, and this year we wanted to get out and do something outside,'” said Greg Dudeck, owner of Dudeck’s Pine Country in Rolling Prairie.

“People want some cheer,” said Dudeck’s wife, Rhonda.

The Dudecks said Monday their sales are up about 20%, and they have seen many first-time customers who found other farms had already sold out. The Dudecks sell 3,000 to 3,500 trees in a typical season, but may break 4,000 this year.

Amy Start, executive director of the Michigan Christmas Tree Association, said many farms have reported their sales are up between 25% and 50%.

“I’ve heard people say they can’t do much this year, but this is one thing they can do,” said Becca Masters, who was searching for a Fraser fir at Dudek’s with her kids. “This is one festive activity nobody can take away from you.”

While there is talk of a national “shortage” of Christmas trees, some growers say it’s an exaggeration.

“There’s trees out there, but not everybody may be able to cut the tree they’re after, this late in the season,” said Dan Cassens, a professor emeritus of forestry at Purdue University who also owns a tree farm in Lafayette. “A lot of choose-and-cut farms are small and sell their trees in the first couple weeks. That looks like a shortage but it’s really not.”

When demand surges, Dudeck said, farms can quickly sell out, depending on how aggressively they’ve planted, because it takes up to 12 years for some varieties of trees to mature. He pointed out the industry is still seeing the effects of the Great Recession, when some growers went out of business and others sold fewer trees, leaving less room for new seedlings.

Whatever the reason, consumers may have fewer options to choose from this year.

One St. Joseph County grower, Liberty Christmas Tree Farm in North Liberty, did not open for business this season. In a Facebook post, the farm attributed the closure to “everything going on this year,” without elaborating.

The scarcity of trees has trickled down to some smaller sellers, too. In Goshen, the Chief ice cream shop, which has sold pre-cut trees on its lot for decades, announced it was unable to find a wholesaler this season. In a Facebook post, the shop said its longtime supplier’s crop was damaged by blight this year, and two other options fell through.

“Especially this year, more people are looking for, ‘how can I make my house more cozy and a joyous place to be,'” Start said. “If people want a real Christmas tree, they better get out and get one soon.”

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