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Christmas trees hard to come by in Lycoming County

Tebbs Retail Manager, Rachel Livermore (Williamsport), cites the 2008 economic crisis as one of the main reasons for the Christmas tree shortage many are now experiencing

Santa may need some extra directions this year as Lycoming County has fallen victim to a Christmas Tree shortage.

Local Christmas tree vendors such as Tebb’s Greenhouse at 1620 4 Mile Drive, are taking notice of the lower supply of this year. The root causes of which can be traced back to over a decade ago.

“What we are mainly seeing are results from the 2008 recession,” said Tebb’s retail manager, Rachel Livermore.

“It is hard to believe, but that pushed a lot of small growers out in Pennsylvania because tree sales were so low. But, it takes 10 to 15 years for trees to grow, so because of that, you’re seeing the results now,” she said.

Livermore explained that it is that same delay in profit in the Christmas tree industry which has also contributed to a very small amount of younger folks going into the business themselves.

“There’s a lot of upfront cost in trees, so you’re seeing small guys get out, because it takes 10 to 15 years to make money off of initial costs and because of that, a lot of younger generations are just not interested in growing Christmas trees,” she said. “So, now we’re seeing only big, giant wholesalers growing Christmas trees whereas 10, 15, 20 years ago you could pick up a tree for five dollars wherever you wanted. But, this year they are upwards of 100, 150 dollars.”

While Livermore stated that the 2008 financial crisis is the “main contributing factor” to the current shortage, she also mentioned a particularly bad harvest of trees for one of the state’s most reliable Christmas tree suppliers in North Carolina.

“That’s your main contributing factor… But there’s been Christmas tree diseases. North Carolina was one of the biggest states for Frasier Firs. They had a huge (Christmas tree) disease that went through, so we used to call them for trees. Now, North Carolina is calling Pennsylvania growers for trees because we haven’t had the diseases they’ve seen,” she said.

And while the shortage of trees may feel as though it is a brand new occurrence, Livermore says that the decrease in supply actually started nearly three years ago.

When asked if she thinks that this will become the new standard for holiday tree shopping, she said that she expected the pinch in supplies to end within the next few years.

“You’re going to see growers around here reaching their five and six foot trees that are available for cutting. Then, by five years, I think we will be out of this and the prices can start going back down,” she added.

However, Livermore also said that she fears so many people will have switched to artificial trees by that point that the market for natural Christmas trees will be nearly non-existent.

“But, at that point is demand going to be low because everybody switched to artificial? So, it’s a constant up and down game that you have to play. I think we have beautiful trees, there’s just not many of them,” she added. “I think we started advertising in October that there is a tree shortage and if you want a real Christmas tree come early…If you can, I would definitely buy early and then put it in your house when you want, just so you ensure you have one.”

The major shortage of trees appears to be affecting Christmas tree vendors of all sizes in the area, as Arnold J. Betts, co-owner of Betts Tree Farm in Linden, also said that his crop of trees was nearly depleted before Thanksgiving of this year.

“I normally don’t see this many sales before thanksgiving, but this year, we’ve had people tagging in the trees and the sales have been brisk all the way through (Thanksgiving weekend),” Betts said.

Betts says that the sales rush experienced last year “changed everything” in terms of the amount of business the farm has seen this year. Noting that the farm sold “five times more trees” than they do in a normal year, the amount of trees sold in 2020 has left them with a deficit in the amount of product left for customers this year.

“You couple (the excess amount of trees the farm sold in 2020) with the fact that we had a major drought last year and what that’s done for us is we’ve got no new growth on our trees. So, the trees many individuals were taking were nice trees, but I don’t have that growth fill in for the next year,” he said.

Showing how all tree farms and farmers are being affected this year, Betts also noted that his farm has seen a great deal of customers shopping with them who would have previously gone to a different local farm that has since been shuttered or closed in order to “save stock for next year”.

“We’ve seen a lot of new clients this year because of the tree farms actually shutting down in the area and that has added to our deficit for this year,” he said.

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