Christmas tree farm thriving despite tree shortage

Published 11:00 am Saturday, December 4, 2021

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Business has been successful for Gilbert Christmas Tree Farm, located at 1230 County Road 296 in Lanett, despite a shortage of Fraser fir trees from North Carolina, according to business owner Ray Gilbert. Gilbert said he sold more trees Thanksgiving weekend than he’s ever sold on a Thanksgiving weekend.

“It was really booming,” he said. “I didn’t even have time to eat lunch. The cars started arriving that morning, and they kept coming till nighttime.”

Gilbert said Fraser fir trees are the most popular in America, but they’re not the only variety to choose from.

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“There are plenty of trees in Oregon, out that way, Michigan, Canada, and across the south,” he said.” All the southern Christmas tree farms have plenty of trees. We grow them. They’re right here. I don’t have to haul them in from anywhere.”

Gilbert said he grows Leyland cypress trees, which he said is what most southern Christmas tree farms grow.

Because North Carolina tree farms are charging Christmas tree sellers more than they used to, Gilbert said his business has had to increase prices on Fraser fir trees by $5 to $10 compared to last year.

“This year, we tried to get some nine-to-ten-foot [trees from North Carolina], and they had to cut everybody’s order in half, so we only got half of the nine-to-ten foot that we wanted,” he said. “But we got plenty of six-foot-to-eight-foot trees.”

Gilbert explained that in 2008, the Christmas tree farm market in North Carolina got saturated. Farmers were selling their trees for $5 to $10.

“And you know a farmer selling trees for $5 to $10 is not making any money,” he said. “They quit planting.”

Gilbert said the shortage occurred after the market recovered and real Christmas trees grew in popularity.

He said it takes eight to 10 years to grow a Fraser fir, which means North Carolina farms have some catching up to do.

“I’m in the Southern Christmas Tree Association, and I’ve got friends in Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi that could not get any Fraser firs because they were all sold out from North Carolina,” he said. “Now, they could get some out of Michigan, but if you bring them out of Michigan, Frasers are almost three times what they’d be out of North Carolina.”

Despite the shortage, Gilbert said he bought more Fraser firs this year compared to last year.

“We’re having a great year,” he said.

However, Gilbert Christmas Tree Farm is being affected by a labor shortage.

“It’s hard to find anybody on Thursday and Friday to help,” he said. “On the weekends, I’ve got plenty because I get high school help.”

Gilbert Christmas Tree Farm is open from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Thursday and Friday. On these days, because of the labor shortage, customers cut down their own trees. On Saturdays, the farm is open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. On Sundays, it’s open from noon to 6 p.m. Santa will be at the farm this Saturday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and on Sunday from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.

Gilbert isn’t sure when he’ll stop selling trees this year.

“It’s a possibility that we could close after this weekend,” he said. “We would normally be open next weekend, too. We’re going to make that decision on Sunday evening.”