Story at a glance
- armers who grow Christmas trees are experiencing setbacks from severe heat waves that struck the Pacific Northwest over the summer.
- Christmas tree farmers in Oregon were hit especially hard, resulting in a 5 to 10 percent decrease in supply.
- The U.S. Department of Agriculture says Oregon is the No. 1 state in Christmas tree sales across the country.
Oregon sells the most Christmas trees out of any state in the U.S., but it’s fallen victim to climate change, which is seriously hindering the ability of farmers to grow trees and meet demand during the holiday season.
Over the summer, the Pacific Northwest experienced record-breaking heat waves with temperatures reaching well over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. In Portland, the average high temperature from June 26 to June 29 was 112 degrees Fahrenheit, which was the hottest three-day period on record by more than six degrees.
Those heat waves hit farmers especially hard. Larry Ryerson, a 78-year-old Christmas tree farmer from southern Oregon, told The Guardian that after temperatures hit 115 degrees, he noticed his trees turn brown and eventually die.
“It just kind of breaks your heart that you go out there and one day they’re nice fresh-looking trees, and the next day, they’re wilted and turning colors. And there’s nothing you can do about it,” said Ryerson.
Ryerson co-owns U Cut Christmas Tree Farm with his sister and estimated he lost 4,500 trees this year because of lack of inventory, which resulted in his farm being open for only three days. Normally, Ryerson opens his farm around Thanksgiving and is able to sell all the way through Christmas Day.
The American Farm Bureau Foundation for Agriculture says it takes about six to eight years for Christmas trees to grow to a marketable height, and about 40 to 45 acres of land is typically needed to harvest.
However, farmers are trying to come up with solutions to climate change affecting their businesses. Tom Norby, the president of the Oregon Christmas Tree Growers Association, told The Guardian that farmers could plant cover crops or grow trees that are known to be more resistant to a heating climate.
On Norby’s own farm, he planted grass between each of his trees as a way to keep moisture in the soil and block heat from radiating up to the trees.
But some changes may need to be more dramatic, with farmers adjusting their harvesting schedules to begin planting earlier or relocating farms to be further north.
As for meeting demand, Norby said in Oregon, Christmas tree inventory was down by 5 to 10 percent across the state, but that they were not experiencing a shortage yet.
“You want a Christmas tree, they’re out there. But, you know, here’s the thing, we should be embracing Christmas tree growers. And what you might get is a slightly damaged tree, you know, a tree that’s expressing some of the signs of this global warming event,” said Norby.
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