SALEM — Seasonal workers wade through a sea of green at Holiday Tree Farms’ Red Prairie Division in Polk County.
Heaps of freshly cut Christmas trees, about 50,000 trees in all, cover the loading area on this clear November day. The trees won’t be here for long.
Some 200 workers are busy at the site near Dallas. Tree after tree is placed on mechanical shakers to remove loose needles, run through baling machines and wrapped with twine, tossed on a conveyor and, finally, loaded into trucks.
This is the peak of the shipping season for Christmas tree growers. And at tree farms across the Willamette Valley, optimism about a prosperous year is as palpable as the scent of evergreen.
“It’s looking really good. We are getting lots of phone calls looking for product,” said Mark Arkills, production manager for Corvallis-based Holiday Tree Farms. The company annually harvests and ships about 1 million trees.
An oversupply of Christmas trees, which began to take hold in 2005, made it rough going for tree growers for many years. The market has finally cycled through the overabundance, so growers expect to see a small increase in wholesale prices.
“I’m starting to hear growers use a term I haven’t heard in a long time: sold out,” said Bryan Ostlund, executive secretary of the Pacific Northwest Christmas Tree Association.
Oregon is the nation’s leading Christmas tree producer. An estimated 6.4 million Christmas trees were harvested in Oregon in 2012.
North Carolina, the nation’s second-largest producer, harvested about 3.5 million trees last year. Michigan ranked third with 3 million trees harvested.
Christmas trees planted seven to nine years ago are headed to buyers this season. Because it’s such a slow-growing crop,
growers have to take a long-term view.
Case in point: Back in 2001 to 2003, growers planted mostly noble fir and fewer Douglas firs.
The species in highest demand this season?
“Douglas fir is the sought after species right now,” Ostlund said.
It’s not that Douglas firs are suddenly more popular than past years.
It’s just that fewer Douglas firs are on the market, Ostlund said.
California is the top domestic market for trees grown in the Northwest.
About 45 percent of the Oregon and Washington harvest is shipped to California.
Mexico takes most of the Oregon trees certified for foreign export.
About 23 percent of Oregon-grown Douglas fir Christmas trees are shipped to Mexico.