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Christmas tree shortage driving prices higher

by FreightWaves’ Linda Baker

A limited supply of Christmas trees in Oregon, the country’s No. 1 producer, continues to drive up wholesale and retail costs. The pricetag for Noble Firs doubled compared to five years ago. In the past two years, prices have risen 15% annually.

“Supply is definitely tight, said Greg Smith, owner of Molalla Tree Farms in Molalla, Oregon and a third-generation Christmas tree farmer.

On average, consumers paid $78 for a tree in 2018, up $3 from 2017, the Associated Press reported.

An eight-year growing period

Oregon is home to nearly 400 licensed Christmas tree growers, down from around 900 growers 15 years ago, according to Chal Landgren, a Christmas tree extension specialist with Oregon State University’s College of Forestry.

The decline dates back to the early 2000s, when a glut of trees hit the market, causing prices to plummet. Many farmers, mostly small, independent growers, “couldn’t take those kind of losses,” Smith said.

Growing Christmas trees is not a profession for the impatient, he added. It takes eight years from seed to sale, a long wait that serves as a barrier to entry for new growers, who prefer to harvest crops producing an annual yield.

Capacity impacts

The tree shortage is one reason securing transportation hasn’t been a problem this year, said Carl Johnson, owner of PacWest Transport, a Portland-based brokerage that specializes in perishable, frozen and temperature-sensitive transportation.

Many of the large growers are also shipping by rail, Johnson said.

Abundant capacity — and a limited supply of trees — are not exerting downward pressure on trucking rates. The cost to ship perishables to Texas goes up by $1,000 for Christmas tree season, according to Johnson, who added that prices are highest starting from the weekend before Thanksgiving to the weekend after.

Oregon outbound tender rejections declined by 47.69% during Thanksgiving week 2019, compared to the same week in 2018. (Image: SONAR)

Oregon outbound tender rejections declined by 47.69% during Thanksgiving week 2019, compared to the same week in 2018. (Image: SONAR)

Oregon outbound tender rejections declined by 47.69% during Thanksgiving week 2019, compared to the same week in 2018. (Image: SONAR)

Shortages notwithstanding, Oregon’s status as world’s largest Christmas tree market is holding steady. The state sells about 4.6 million trees a year, valued at around $100 million. .

Shipping the trees — most are destined for the Pacific Northwest, California, Nevada and Arizona — is laborious work. PacWest hauls nursery stock year-round, but Christmas trees require special attention, Johnson said. “The difference is once you cut the trees, they are literally dying. Time is critical.”

To keep the trees cool and moist, the majority of shippers favor a combination of reefers and ice, he explained, adding that PacWest works with a core group of carriers year after year to ensure the trees arrive in good condition.

“The beauty of hiring the same crews is they know what they are doing,” Johnson said. “Some people are lured by the price and don’t realize how difficult the job can be,” he explained. “We’re very upfront with any new truck [drivers].”

F3: Future of Freight Festival


The second annual F3: Future of Freight Festival will be held in Chattanooga, “The Scenic City,” this November. F3 combines innovation and entertainment — featuring live demos, industry experts discussing freight market trends for 2024, afternoon networking events, and Grammy Award-winning musicians performing in the evenings amidst the cool Appalachian fall weather.

Chris Henry

Chris Henry has spent his entire 20-year career in transportation. In 2014, he founded the online motor carrier benchmarking service StakUp. As a result of a partnership with the Truckload Carriers Association (TCA) in 2015, StakUp was rebranded as inGauge and Henry became the program manager for the TCA Profitability Program (TPP), an exclusive benchmarking initiative that includes more than 230 motor carrier participants throughout North America. Since joining the program, participation in TPP has grown over 300%. In June 2019, StakUp was acquired by FreightWaves and Henry became its vice president of carrier profitability, in addition to his role with TPP. Henry earned an MBA from the University of Massachusetts and a bachelor of commerce degree from Nipissing University.