Local Christmas Tree Industry Doing ‘Great’ With Glut of Recent Years Cleared Out

Published Tuesday, November 24, 2015 at 5:12 pm
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In Newland, workers put wholesale trees on the back of a truck to ship down the mountain. Photo by Ken Ketchie

By Jesse Wood

Choose-and-cut and wholesale growers are expected to have a merry Christmas this holiday season as the Christmas tree industry continues its rebound from the oversupply cycle that one local grower described as a “disaster.”

“The glut has dried up and cleared out, and now there is a tight supply of trees,” said Joey Clawson, owner of Panoramic View Christmas Tree Farm in Boone.

About seven years ago, local farmers realized they couldn’t sell as many trees as they were planting. Clawson mentioned that farmers began growing 30 percent less trees during the Great Recession to match current demand. Many trees were burned or grew too big for residential homes.

Instead of getting out of the business like many farmers around him, Clawson said he bought several wholesale operations and recently even bought two choose-and-cut operations to supply trees to wholesalers.

“I am slammed,” Clawson said on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving as he was preparing to load up two tractor trailers with trees.

Paige Patterson, consumer horticulture agent with the Watauga County Cooperative Extension, said that those two choose-and-cut farms that Clawson bought are among a total of four choose-and-cut operations that recently sold out to wholesale operations.

map“Trees are in high demand. In fact, we’ve had several of our choose-and-cut growers [sell their inventory] to wholesale people because there aren’t enough trees available on the wholesale market,” Patterson said.

Patterson mentioned that these were generally folks that were ready to exit the market and this opportunity gave them a chance to “kind of walk away” from the industry.

North Carolina ranks second in the nation for trees harvested, and of about the 4.3 million trees harvested annually in the state, 98 percent of those are grown in a six-country region in Western North Carolina that features Avery, Watauga and Ashe counties, according to Jennifer Greene, the executive director of the N.C. Christmas Tree Association.

Greene said that the Christmas tree industry is doing “great” right now.

“We’ve had an oversupply over the past several years and now we’ve worked our way out of that,” Greene said. “We’ve have a great crop and wholesale prices look good.”

In Avery County, Extension Director Jerry Moody, who is out for the week, told the Avery Journal-Times that the industry is currently “healthy.”

Moody said that $22 to $23 million (nearly 70 percent) of the $32 million of the annual agriculture revenue in the county is derived from Christmas tree production.

“The tree industry is healthy in this county,” Moody said. “It is no longer a cottage industry, trees are big business now.”

In January, Doug Hundley with the Avery County Cooperative Extension declared that the wholesale Christmas tree glut was officially over as wholesale prices increased and demand outpaced supply.

Hundley noted that the Christmas tree industry operates on a 10-year cycle.

“The bad news was the oversupply that we had for a number of years. Then the bright side to that, now that we have not enough trees, prices are going rise,” Hundley said in January. “Hopefully times will be good for several years.”

As for the choose-and-cut industry, it’s always been strong locally and offers another reason for people to come up to the High Country to enjoy a mountain experience.

“It provides a great opportunity to bring people into Boone and into the High Country,” Greene said.

Greene noted that historically, the prime choose-and-cut weekend is Thanksgiving Day weekend but more and more local farms are opening a week or even two weeks earlier.

For a list of choose-and-cut farms associated with the Watauga County Christmas Tree Association, click here.

For more information about the N.C. Christmas Tree Association, click here.

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