NEWS

Enough trees in Rhode Island?

Christmas tree shopping starts early for those in fear of missing out

John Howell
Posted 11/24/21

Last year John Morris of Morris Farm in Warwick sold 300 Christmas trees. This year he won’t be selling any.

It’s not that Morris has gone out of the Christmas business – his …

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NEWS

Enough trees in Rhode Island?

Christmas tree shopping starts early for those in fear of missing out

Posted

Last year John Morris of Morris Farm in Warwick sold 300 Christmas trees. This year he won’t be selling any.

It’s not that Morris has gone out of the Christmas business – his stand on Warwick Avenue has plenty of miniature trees and wreaths handcrafted from boxwood cuttings – he can’t get fresh Fraser trees that he considers the best for keeping their needles. He doesn’t want to disappoint his customers for years with anything less than what he considers the best.

Jonathan Confreda of Confreda Farms in Cranston, who usually sells 500 tree, says he’s lucky. While he hadn’t gotten them by earlier this week, he expects his provider, a tree farm in Connecticut, to come through.

And Big John Leyden whose family owns one of the biggest tree farms in Rhode Island, if not the biggest, says he’s got plenty of Christmas trees.

All three say they are being affected by a shortage of Christmas trees this year. Confreda said he heard an early October snowstorm caught Canadian growers by surprise. Harvesting the trees was more difficult not only because of the snow but also a lack of employees. Topping that off was a lack of truck drivers.

Morris said his wholesale supplier told him when the 2008 recession hit, farmers cut back on planting and now we’re feeling the effects.

Another possible cause, which was named in a recent National Public Radio report was that in order to meet the high demand for trees in the midst of the pandemic last year, farmers cut trees that would have been harvested for this Christmas.

Leyden has heard of possible tree shortages this year and evidently so has the public. He opened on Veterans Day weekend to a larger than ever crowd. He’s finding people fear of being caught without a Christmas tree.

A visit to the farm on Saturday found a steady stream of customers.

“We’re not taking a chance (of not getting a tree),” said Jacqueline Travisono who had picked out the tree she and her husband Matt wanted to bring home. “We need some Christmas cheer.”

John Leyden’s brother Matt obliged with a chain saw and soon the tree was headed to the Travisono home in nearby Richmond.

Leyden’s fields of trees are a mix of species and ages. That’s the way he planned it, saplings growing in the shadow of larger trees so there’s young growth to take the place of those bound for the prime spot in a living room. What he calls a family tree takes about 12 years to reach six to eight feet. The “commercial” trees are 10 to 14 feet.

While Leyden has plenty of trees – 100,000 over 70 acres – and no supply chain issues since customers get their trees right from the source, finding a Christmas tree this year from your favorite vendor may be more difficult and the price could be considerably more than prior years. Reports of shortages unwarranted

According to a release issued by the Christmas Tree Promotion Board of the National Christmas Tree Association (NCTA), trade association that represents more than 700 active member farms, 29 state and regional associations, and more than 4,000 affiliated businesses, “Taking into account their harvests and wholesale demand, the consensus is that although the supply has been tightened by a variety of things, including bad weather and supply chain issues, warnings of mass shortages are unwarranted.”

As for stories as to what happened in 2008 and how it has impacted the supply of trees today, the CTPB reports during the 2008-2011 recession, many big growers, wholesalers and choose-and-cut growing operations went out of business or retired, triggering a drop in supply. In response, other large growers and new farmers began planting more trees following the recession and those will be available in the coming years, returning to more normal or even above average supply. The CTPB said a tightened supply would vary by location since any given supplier may have greater or fewer options to provide any given retailer.

“Some consumers may not find the exact tree that they're looking for in the exact place they look for it, but there will be trees available within shopping distance.”

Tree prices

Price may be an issue in some cases.

Morris sold his Frasers for $70. Customers so trusted his judgment that they would annually leave off their tree stands, let him pick the tree and have him deliver and set it up in their home. A search on the internet found Frasers at Home Depot and Lowe’s selling for more than $100.

Leyden hasn’t upped his prices. Family trees sell for $60 and commercials for $85. When he gets his shipment, Confreda will be selling small trees for $29.99 with the bigger ones like 14 foot Frasers going for $300.

Fraser firs, Leyden said, have gained in popularity along with the balsam fir. He also has blue spruce, Douglas fir, white pine and Concolor firs.`

So far, says Confreda, he’s been lucky. “So much can go wrong this year,” he said listing interruptions in the supply chain, lack of trees and the weather. But he’s got a hunch that this is going to be a spectacular year for trees. He’s thinking he’ll sell 1,000 trees. His first delivery of trees arrived this week.

He could be right about the demand, but will there be trees?

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