The Christmas Crop - Growing Christmas Trees in the PNW

christmas trees,forestry,pacific northwest,agriculture

According to data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Christmas tree farms cover almost 350,000 acres of land, an area that is about the size of Los Angeles. Christmas trees are now as much a crop as is wheat, soybeans, or grass seed. The Pacific Northwest is not only the largest, but also the finest growing area in the nation. In 2017 of the estimated 17 million trees harvested by American farmers during the Christmas season, more than 5.4 million came from Pacific Northwest growers.

Growers across the country typically operate choose-and-cut farms, small operations where consumers pick their own trees to cut; in the Pacific Northwest however, the hills and mountains create a climate that is conducive to larger scale farms. 92 percent of all trees grown in the PNW are exported out of the region, with the majority going to California. Almost one quarter of all of Oregon’s Douglas fir trees are exported to Mexico.

The most common misconception about Christmas trees is that they come from forests. Instead, trees are cultivated for the specific purpose of being harvested for holiday décor. Trees take eight to ten years to grow to a saleable size and must be fertilized, sheared, and tended to for insects and weeds. For every Christmas tree harvested, one to three seedlings are planted the following spring in its place. Growers work hard to ensure that their trees are fresh when they reach the marketplace and aim to have them in route to customers within hours of harvest. To speed up the harvest process some growers use helicopters to pick up slings of freshly cut trees and fly them to a staging area to load onto trucks. Others utilize refrigerated trucks to transport their trees so that they are kept at the proper temperature when crossing mountain ranges or traveling in southern regions where winter temperatures are above normal.

In recent years, the Christmas tree industry has seen an increase in business in large part due to Millennials. Experts believe Millennials are more likely to purchase a real Christmas tree over an artificial one because they tend to be more environmentally conscious than other generations. The industry goes the extra mile to educate the public about the sustainability of Christmas tree farming, a move that is paying off as the mobile payment company Square Inc. reported that 2018 sales were up 10 percent compared to 2017.