Tree growers enjoying boom, notice younger customers
Business this holiday season at Dyer’s Tree Farm in Dover, Del., is booming, owner Pat Dyer said. His eye-popping, clearance-rack price of $48 for any tree up to 8 feet tall might have something to do with that.
“I’m trying to get rid of them,” the 84-year-old farmer said.
He was one of several growers in the region who said tree sales are doing well despite inflationary price increases. Data for sales this season isn’t yet available, but farmers nationally, at least anecdotally, were saying the same, said Jill Sidebottom, spokesperson for the National Christmas Tree Association in Littleton, Colo.
“Last year, with the pandemic ending, it seemed like everybody wanted a tree, and it seemed like places got sold out quickly, and I don’t think it’s quite so bad this year,” she said.
Dyer, however, represents a looming issue for the regional Christmas tree farming industry. The reason for his rock-bottom prices? He’s getting out of the business. His children don’t want to continue the farm and his family labor went off to college. Everything left on his 4-acre farm, which grows about 5,000 trees, has to go.
“I enjoyed” the industry, he said, adding he has “too many trees for a hobby and not enough for a business.”
Each year, he said, he typically sells a few hundred trees, and he’d already sold about 250 of them this year.
Country Loving Christmas Tree Farm in Leesburg, Va., doesn’t have the same latitude to lower prices. Inflation boosted fertilizer and labor costs by 30 percent and diesel by 50 percent — not without consequences for the consumer.
“Sticker shock is the trend this year,” owner Ricky Hoybach said.
Rainy weekends have dampened sales a bit, as has a reduced inventory of larger trees — a particular problem in a wealthy suburb like Loudoun County.
“There’s a lot of people with the huge homes, the 25-foot foyers and stuff,” he said. “We had a lot of people come looking for 10-, 12-footers, didn’t see any, and left.”
The median price for a Christmas tree last year was $69.50, according to a customer survey by the tree association. Nearly 21 million trees were sold, more than half of which were purchased at chain stores, such as Walmart and Lowe’s, and pick-and-choose farm’s such as Dyer’s.
Holiday Memories Farm, another pick-and-choose operation in West River, Md., is in its second year. Business has been “decent” but hampered by weekend rains that kept customers indoors, owner Gary Palmer said. He grows Scotch pine trees and white, Canaan and Douglas fir trees on about 10 acres in southern Anne Arundel County. A tree from their field costs $100 and customers are offered hot chocolate, candy canes and popcorn. Children can also visit with an on-duty Santa.
“We think it’s a great experience, and this is a great way for the agricultural community to bring people to farms that may not come to farms normally and experience what we experience everyday,” Palmer said.
The tree operation also introduces customers to the farm’s chickens, ducks and pick-your-own blueberries and blackberries available in the summer. He’s made particular note of his customers’ age.
“We’re seeing a lot of young families that embrace the real tree, and a lot of them are starting traditions for their families,” he said.
As Palmer learns the tree industry, Dyer makes his exit. He’s no longer planting trees and expects to be completely out within three to four years.
“I’ve enjoyed it for 50-some years, but it’s time to get out,” he said. “Everything comes to an end, including me.”