By AMANDA COLLINS
The demand for fresh-cut Virginia Christmas trees continues to increase, but some growers are coming up short, according to Tony Banks, a commodity marketing specialist for Virginia Farm Bureau Federation.
That’s because “it’s a long process, generally taking seven or more years to raise most trees to a marketable size,” Banks said.
The shortage also held true locally, with Ayers-Kreh Christmas Tree Farm open only November 24-26 due to low inventory.
Richard Kreh, co-owner, said this is the first year since 1986 that the business had to reduce sales. The non-native species of trees are stressed, he said.
He explained that out of every 100 trees planted, only 20 may mature into a suitable Christmas tree due to a large number of factors that contribute to the growth of a tree.
Depending on the species of tree and the soil quality, a six- to seven-foot tree may take as little as four to five years to grow, or it can take as long as 12 to 15 years to mature, Kreh said.
Soil testing is done at the approximately 20 acre farm to help pick the best site to plant new trees, he said.
The local farm does not sell wholesale, he said. It only does retail choose-and-cut sales.
Kreh noted sales have been steady, with no increase or decrease.
He said about 60 percent of the tree farm’s customers are repeat customers, and added the choose-and-cut strategy at his farm is a family tradition for many customers.
“Virginia production has expanded over the past decade or more among both wholesale Christmas tree farms and retail choose-and-cut farms,” Banks said. “Increasing populations in Virginia and the East Coast, along with consumer demand for locally grown products, are contributing to the added production.”
He said there are two primary reasons for the expansion: Virginia farms are located within a day’s drive of two-thirds of consumers, and growing conditions—including climate and geography—are conducive to raising a variety of tree species across the state, according to Banks.
Virginia’s Christmas tree industry includes thousands of growers, according to the Virginia Christmas Tree Growers Association. It is estimated there are more than 7 million trees growing in the state, with annual sales of $40 million, according to a release.