- Industry groups are warning of an impending Christmas-tree shortage due to extreme heat and droughts.
- Dana Furrow and her husband, Matt Furrow, own a Christmas-tree farm in Oregon. The weather hit their crops hard.
- They said it’ll likely impact your choice of live trees this year – whether they be smaller or of a different variety.
- This is their story, as told to freelance writer Colleen Hagerty.
Dana Furrow and her husband, Matt Furrow, are the owners of Furrow Farm in Hillsboro, Oregon. After growing and selling Christmas trees for decades, they had an unprecedented loss of seedlings this season due to this year’s drought and heatwave.
This is her story, as told to freelance writer Colleen Hagerty. It has been edited for length and clarity.
My husband is a third-generation hazelnut farmer in Oregon. As a teenager, he went to work for a Christmas-tree grower and started planting his own tiny amount of trees once he learned the ropes.
He was 17 at the time, and together, he and I have been doing this for about 30 years.
There’s a lot that goes into growing a Christmas tree: prepping the ground, fertilizing, raking, cultivating, and going through with your crew to put in the seedlings. Then, we have to make sure they’re in the ground right and standing up straight – if we don’t, that’s when you get the curved trunk.
We still have people who think a tree is planted one year, and then the next year, it’s ready to harvest. I don’t know where they get that idea from, but it takes much longer – six to 10 years for harvest size – so you’re spending a lot of time and money before you ever sell your product.
Plus, the trees require care year-round. It’s not just harvesting or planting them and letting them grow; you’ve got fertilizing and trimming, plus the planting time alone.
Our cut-your-own-tree (u-cut) area is 120 acres, which includes two hazelnut orchards and some pasture, and we also offer fresh-cut trees if people don’t want to cut down a tree. We plant probably 30,000 to 40,000 trees per year.
You do lose a certain percentage – I remember my husband saying you expect to lose about 20%. You always have that plus whatever your other risks are, like the weather.
In June, it reached 115 degrees
Spring was really good for the trees this year, and we actually had more trees for people to cut than we thought we would. But then June came around.
The drought and the high heat that month pretty much killed all of our seedlings in the valley. We also had a really promising amount of Noble Firs for people to cut this year, but the whole field was hit hard by the heat.
When you see mature Noble Firs starting to turn red, you’re like, “Oh, no.”
If you’ve ever seen diseased trees, heat damage kind of looks like that – or like if you had your tree in your house for a couple of months and then stuck it outside until June or July. The needles are falling apart.
Even if it’s just one branch or a quarter of a branch, when people are going out cutting a tree and they see that, they’re not going to cut that tree down, because they’re afraid that it’ll just dry up even faster. Plus, it just doesn’t look good. Christmas trees have to look green, not already dying.
I felt powerless. We’d been putting time and money into these trees for eight years, 10 years – and every year, you’re paying for labor and other growing costs, and then this tree isn’t sellable.
Hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of trees are that way, and you want to have enough trees to get through your season and make sure everyone gets a Christmas tree. You hate to let your customers down, and if you have to close your farm early, it’s like, “Where do the people go now?” because a lot of the farms around here saw a lot of damage.
We’ve never had to deal with this before
We think some of the trees that were damaged from heat will come back, but they might take a couple of years. We’ve never had to deal with this before, so we don’t know, but we’re hopeful that maybe they’ll be able to green up later on or they’ll grow and then we can cut the damaged parts off.
We’re also going to replant some fields we lost this year. The maybe 50 seedlings that made it – which is nothing compared to how many we planted – we took out of the ground, and we’re going to rework the ground.
Usually, we start planting around late winter or early spring, but we’re going to actually try planting this fall because we get more rain this time of year. We’ve been planting more Nordman Firs and Turkish Firs, which are more drought resistant, but they don’t like too much rain either. It’s basically one extreme or the other.
We’ve seen a shortage already
With the heat and Oregon being the number one producer of Christmas trees, I’m sure there will be shortages of Christmas trees out there. There have been for the past couple years across the United States.
In our area, there were a lot of farms that just kind of quit when the economy fell in 2008. So we’ve seen a shortage already, and we have way more people than we used to living around here. We were always open until December 24 every year, but the last couple years, we’ve ended up closing our cut-your-own-tree section halfway through the season.
But we’re not all gloom and doom. We have plenty of fresh-cut Nobles we can bring down. We’ve been getting some rain, which is good.
Everything’s greening up. There are still trees to cut; people just might not be able to cut as many. I’ll probably put a sign out that explains the heat damage, in case people didn’t see it on the news.
We’re opening when we always do: the day after Thanksgiving. I hate telling people to get trees as early as they can because I don’t want to start a frenzy, and I’m sure there’s still going to be lots of trees available. Maybe you’ll have to get a smaller tree than you normally do, or maybe a different variety.
But a Christmas tree is a Christmas tree, and they all look beautiful, so hopefully people will think like that.