This holiday season, Americans are expected to spend more than $1 trillion on food, gifts and of course decorations. For most who celebrate Christmas, it wouldn’t be the holidays without a Christmas tree in their home.
And for those looking for a live tree for the season, Indiana’s Christmas tree farmers have been preparing for years to supply families with their beloved evergreens.
This year, national news outlets, including USA Today, are reporting that Americans could pay more for pre-cut Christmas trees this year as shortages deepen from the country's top-producing states, Oregon and North Carolina. The shortages are mostly due to an oversupply of trees during the Great Recession (which officially lasted from 2007-2009), leading to planting cutbacks or growers being forced out of business during tough economic times.
The large national growers that remain, many of whom will be supplying the pre-cut trees you will see at big-box stores across the country, are not able to keep up with the demand, and when the supply is tight, prices increase.
Fortunately, it appears that most Indiana Christmas tree farmers have not had similar economic issues and haven’t had to make any drastic changes to the prices.
“I didn’t cut back during the recession – I kept planting. So I have plenty of trees for sale each year,” shared Mike Bohman of Bohman Christmas Tree Farm in Decatur County. “Now, I plant 6,500 to 7,000 trees a year, but it takes a long time to get the product to market. Some species are ready in eight years and others not until 12 years.”
In fact, many local Christmas tree farmers are steadily increasing the number of trees they grow each year to meet the demand.
“We planted more trees a few years ago, but it will still be a few years before they get to market,” explained Tom Dull of Dull’s Tree Farm. “In the meantime, we have brought in some fresh pre-cut trees from bigger growers in other parts of the country to supplement the supply. That also allows us to offer our customers some types of trees that we don’t grow in Indiana.”
Currently, Dull grows Scotch pine, white pine and Canaan fir, while Bohman offers the same varieties plus Fraser firs.
In most cases you’ll have to take a trip to the farm to purchase your locally-grown Christmas tree. But that is all part of the fun, said Dull.
“We sell the experience, not just trees,” explained Dull. “We offer fun things for kids to do when they visit to pick out their tree, like slides and straw mazes, and we offer horse-drawn wagon rides for the whole family. There’s also hot chocolate and warm apple cider and plenty of food.”
When you arrive on one of these farms, in most cases you’ll be allowed to choose between purchasing a pre-cut tree or selecting your own to cut down.
“Most folks that visit our farm want the experience of choosing their own tree,” said Bohman. “We have five tractors and wagons that take you out to pick your tree. Once you pick the tree and cut it down, we shake the tree with a machine to remove the loose needles. Then, we get you set up with a stand and everything you need to take it home and stand it up quickly and easily.”
Bohman and Dull have similar stories about how they got into the Christmas tree business. Both are first-generation tree farmers who come from farm families who produced something other than Christmas trees.
“I came back to the family farm after graduating from Purdue and I had plans to expand the family hog business,” explained Dull. “In the early ’80s the farm economy wasn’t great, so we decided to plant Christmas trees as a way to put money away for the kids’ college.”
Dull says the tree farm has exceeded his expectations and he was even able to expand the farm a few years ago to include a pumpkin harvest, allowing his son and daughter-in-law to come back to the farm.
Bohman’s story is similar.
“I had a job in town and didn’t want to take over my father’s dairy farm because of my full-time job,” said Bohman. “So I decided to take the pastureland and put it in Christmas trees just as a part-time business and a way to relax. That was 1968 and I planted 500 trees that first year.”
Come Friday, Nov. 24, the day after Thanksgiving, most Indiana Christmas tree farms will be selling trees to families across the state. If you’re pining for a real tree this year, consider making a trip to an Indiana Christmas tree farm for a unique, merry experience.