Owen: It’s a good time for Christmas tree growers
BLACKSBURG, Va. — A North Carolina Christmas tree specialist shared his views of the Christmas tree industry here during the 2019 Virginia Christmas Tree Growers Association Conference, saying it’s a good time for the industry.
Jeff Owen, with North Carolina State University Extension, reviewed the state of the Christmas tree industry, its trends and its opportunities during the opening day of the conference Aug. 1-3.
“It’s a wonderful time for our industry,” he said. “It’s certainly a good time for Christmas trees.”
He told the group he believes the check-off has been good for the industry and said the market for trees is good now. Things are good for the choose-and-cut farms as well, however, the number of aging growers in the industry as well as across the entire farm community. Small farms especially are challenged in attracting younger growers.
He said there are fewer Christmas tree farms but income on those farms is rising.
This increase is related to current prices, which are expected to increase again this season, he noted, due to a shortage of Christmas trees and a strong demand for real trees, Owen said.
“People are buying earlier,” he said. “It’s good for the industry. Growers are finally making money.” He said there are still opportunities for prices to increase due to shortage.
“Do what you can while you can,” he advised. “In a few years trees will be in good supply.”
Tree supplies are still recovering from the recession that forced growers to cut back on what they could afford to plant.
“Don’t charge more than the consumer is willing to pay,” he cautioned. He went on to say that inflation runs up the price of a tree in the 10 years it takes to grow one. This means that a $20 tree planted a decade ago is worth $44 today.
“We’re still not getting paid what our grandfathers got,” he said.
Owen said despite a sunny short-term outlook, the long-term future of the industry has its challenges, mainly the growing popularity of artificial trees. He urged that the promotional campaign developed by the check-off program be used to do things to build the market, not to tear it down.
Another challenge is marketing to the different generations of customers that are buying Christmas trees.
“Different generation values lead to different traditions and purchasing decision, he noted, citing the baby boomer; the Generation-X and Millennial groups as growers main targets. “We are in a battle of hearts, minds and the credit cards of the next generation.”
Owen pointed to other variables in the industry including pests, especially deer; closed doors in trade wars; labor; and climate change or variable weather, growers will have to face.
He predicted that the industry will become smaller with fewer members and as the industry shrinks strategic planning will be really important.
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