WEST ELGIN — Christmas tree farms have always played a special role for families during the Christmas season. That’s only been intensified this year. With fewer farms and higher demand, farms are simply doing their best to keep up and with their customers.
Leo Dewit runs Leos Tree Farm at West Elgin, along the shore of Lake Erie. He opened earlier than ever this year, throwing open wide the gates in mid-November, and was shocked by how many people were buying trees. “I couldn’t believe it, how many trees went out that weekend.”
Families struggling through COVID-19 and lockdowns are trying to salvage anything meaningful that they can, particularly if they’re expecting smaller holiday gatherings, he said. “This year, people seem to think it’s good to have a real tree. Make it special.”
There’s definitely more customers than trees this year, he said. Cut-your-own trees sell for $48.
Demand is a big factor but so too is supply. Growing a tree from seed takes around 12 years, and the financial decline in 2008 saw a lot of farms shut their doors or cut back on replanting, Dewit added. “I’ll have to pull the plug at some point. It will be hard: some families (have been) coming for 20 years.”
It’s the same story across Ontario and even North America. Eastern Ontario growers say they’ve been seeing demand increases over the last few years and this year is proving even better. One Ottawa-area farm sold 20 per cent more trees on its opening weekend last month, and another farm was expecting to sell 200 more trees this year over last year. American retailers are paying “top dollar” for trees, one grower said. Many growers in both the U.S. and Canada have swapped trees for cash crops, said another grower.