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Planning on a real Christmas tree this year? You'd better shop soon

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REGINA -

Families in search of a real Christmas tree this year better act fast or risk having nothing to put presents underneath.

For the fourth year in a row, retailers are facing a Christmas tree shortage.

"It has been a struggle," said Rachelle Hofmeister, a manager at Dutch Growers greenhouse in Regina.

"The last couple of years we definitely have not been able to get the quantity that we would like, which is why we're expecting to sell out within the next week or two."

The yearslong supply issue is a result of a number of challenges, according to the Canadian Christmas Trees Association (CCTA).

Issues began when the 2008 recession forced some tree farms to close. Other farmers are retiring with no succession plan in place. Between 2011 and 2021, Canada lost roughly 1,000 Christmas tree farms, which was the equivalent of 20,000 acres, according to data from the CCTA.

Disease and extreme weather, such as drought and flooding, have also contributed to shortages in recent years.

CCTA executive director Shirley Brennan said the supply challenges were exacerbated with an increase in demand during the pandemic when more people stayed home for the holidays – and wanted a tree.

Now that many are travelling again, demand is slowly going back down, Brennan said.

"(Supply and demand) are starting to balance out where we're not seeing that huge rush of demand, but we're still seeing the requests for more trees to go across the country and across the borders," Brennan said.

The effects of the shortage are much stronger in areas such as the Prairie provinces that do not have an abundance of Christmas tree farms, according to the CCTA. Prairie retailers often source many of their trees from Quebec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.

This year, some retailers are seeing their shipments decrease by the hundreds.

"I'm seeing us being a little short this year," said Regina tree lot manager Steven Schultz.

"On average we probably sell about 700 trees a year and this year I believe I'm only getting 550."

Certain species are also missing from many of the shipments, including the white pine and Scots pine.

"We weren't able to get a single one of those. All we have is fir trees this year," Hofmeister said.

While selections are sparse in certain areas, the CCTA is asking consumers to look outside of their comfort zone in order to find a tree this season.

"You might not get the tree that you typically always get — species wise or size wise — but I do believe that Canada has enough trees to supply the people that want them," Hofmeister said.

Brennan said she's talked to growers in B.C. and the East Coast who have trees that are ready to go for the season. But the big challenge is filling additional orders for retailers.

Even B.C. farms that are facing stunted growth as a result of extreme heat are unable to offset those losses with imports from other provinces, she said.

The CCTA said it is working to rectify many of the supply issues, which includes student outreach and branching into agri-tourism as a way to encourage youth to enter the Christmas tree industry.

"The unfortunate thing is we can work out ways today, but it takes 10 to 12 years to grow a Christmas tree," Brennan said.

"It's not something that we can do just overnight."

As for solutions for this year, retailers recommend consumers shop early to ensure they get what they want.

"Just because you buy your Christmas tree early doesn't mean you have to set it up early. You can still hold it outside in a shady part of your yard until you're ready to go," Hofmeister said.

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