Local Christmas tree farmers expect a merry holiday
Despite poor weather, the threat of tree shortages, and Amazon’s foray into the market, local Christmas tree farmers are expecting a good season.
For Michael Casto, who owns Houde’s Christmas Tree Farm in Marlborough with his wife, a good economy means higher tree sales. The fact that Thanksgiving fell early this year also means farmers will enjoy an extra weekend of sales.
“We’ve been in business for nearly 50 years,” Casto said. “I think we’re going to be OK.”
Trees grown at Houde’s typically run $50 to $60, depending on size.
While Casto’s prices have been static for several years, tree prices on a national level have been climbing. A healthy market for trees comes with a slight increase in price, said Doug Hundley, a spokesman for the National Christmas Tree Association. He estimated the average price increase would be less than 5 percent.
Bad weather in the region has caused some problems, particularly when it comes to selling precut trees. Casto, who also gets trees from New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, said his suppliers have been hit particularly hard by a late frost this spring and this fall’s early snowstorms.
Megan Krugger, co-owner of Mistletoe Acres Tree Farm in East Bridgewater, said she’s still waiting to get her supply of balsam firs. Heavy snow up north has made it impossible for some suppliers to access their trees, she said.
On top of that, tree farmers this year will share the market with a large new competitor. As of this month, Amazon has begun selling full-size, live Christmas trees.
Hundley said trees bought through the online retail giant probably are not grown in New England. The Fraser firs are grown in North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and New York, while the balsams come from various other areas in the northeastern United States and Canada, he said.
The small Christmas tree farm industry isn’t worried about Amazon’s entrance in the market. In fact, Hundley said he was glad the online market exists.
“We know it can be difficult for older people to come out to the farm,” he said. “This is a way of meeting those needs.”
The practice of buying mail-order trees isn’t new. They’ve been advertised in magazines or on the Internet for decades, Hundley said. So far, though, they’ve accounted for only about 1 to 3 percent of total sales.
Dave Bihldorff, farm manager at Pakeen Farm in Canton, said he doesn’t think Amazon will compete with local growers.
“It’s all about the experience of coming to the farm,” he said. “That’s not something that a tree getting dropped at the door can replicate.”
Casto said he’s more worried about the effect of the weather on sales. Farms like his often rely on weekend sales to make ends meet, he said. When the weather is bad and temperatures are low, it can make for a slow day of sales.
Hundley said growers are optimistic about the millennials, who are beginning to raise their own families.
“They like to buy locally, and they buy natural,” he said.
Many had real Christmas trees in their homes growing up, and Hundley expects that some who grew up with fake trees will try real ones.