Live Christmas tree sales remain steady in Central Illinois, despite inflation
Live Christmas tree sales remain steady at many tree farms in central Illinois, with only marginal price increases over 2021 reported at some locations. In fact, sales are so good at many locations that at least one area “you-cut” tree farm had sold its entire inventory of harvestable trees by Saturday, December 10.
“We’re completely sold out,” said Jan Blank, co-owner of Blank’s Evergreen Acres in Creve Coeur (Tazewell County), where you-cut trees had sold for $60. “We’ve got more trees, but we want them to get more size (before selling). You can keep cutting trees, like I did for a year or two, but that’s stepping on your own toes. We need to stay sustainable, and we don’t want our customers to be disappointed because our trees are too small.”
While several other tree farm owners contacted by WCBU said they were beginning to run low on you-cut trees, some said they still have a lot of varieties remaining in stock.
“We’ve got around 70 acres of trees here and still have plenty available,” said a spokesperson for Grady Christmas Tree Farm in Trivoli (Peoria County). Live trees at Grady’s were selling for $7 per foot for pines and $8 per foot for spruce and fir varieties on Tuesday, Dec. 13.
Here’s a look at some other area you-cut tree farms’ current product availability and pricing:
● Cinnamon Tree Farm, Brimfield (Peoria County): You-cut pre-cut firs and scotch pine trees range from $60 to $75, though only a “handful” of pre-cut trees were left.
● The Ol’ Dairy Barn Christmas Tree Farm, Trivoli (Peoria County): You-cut 6-foot pines are priced at $49, you-cut spruce varieties are $54 to $57 and firs are $62. Prices increase incrementally by the foot. Plenty remain.
● Talbott’s Christmas Tree Farm, Green Valley (Tazewell County): All you-cut varieties of trees are priced at $50, tax included. Plenty remain.
● Pine Grove Tree Farm, Chillicothe: All you-cut varieties priced between $60 and $75, with many to choose from.
Tree costs mostly holding against inflation
Though live trees were selling quickly across central Illinois in the weeks before Christmas, there should be plenty of live and pre-cut live trees left for people to choose from. In addition, pricing for trees seems to be holding steady against the estimated 13 percent rise in costs of many consumer goods over the past year or so. This is according to Rob Richardson, president of the Illinois Christmas Tree Association (ICTA) and co-owner of Richardson Tree Farm in Spring Grove (McHenry County).
“Sales have been just fine, though there’s always more demand than production. We can’t produce them fast enough, really. A big topic the past couple of years has been the perceived Christmas tree shortage, but I think it’s more of a Fraser fir shortage than anything else,” said Richardson, referring to a popular Yuletide species that can take from 7 to 10 years to grow into a 6-or-7 foot tree. “Pines grow fast, and we grow and sell a lot of them. We can grow Fraser firs here, but they don’t thrive. For the last several years we have been bringing in pre-cut (Fraser firs), and they sell for a premium.”
Many of the pre-cut firs and pines that are sold at Illinois tree markets originate from large tree orchards in Michigan. Pre-cuts can carry a heftier price tag than you-cut trees due to
transportation and labor costs. Overall, Illinois tree farmers seem to be standing pat on their 2021 retail Christmas tree prices or raising their prices only marginally, Richardson noted.
“We did not raise our prices this year,” he said. “Our costs have gone up, particularly for labor, but we’ve been able so far to absorb the cost increases. In the Christmas tree industry I don’t think there’s been a big push, generally, to increase prices. There may be some big lots in metropolitan areas who are charging what they think they can get, but farmers tend to lag behind on raising prices. We don’t like to charge any more than we have to.”
Local grower sees input prices increase
Richardson said he has noticed an increase in the number of new, smaller tree orchards dotting the state’s rural landscape. According to the University of Illinois Extension, there are at least 80 locations identified as “Christmas tree farms” in the state, of which more than 30 hold ICTA membership. There are roughly 15,000 Christmas tree farms in the entire U.S., according to the National Christmas Tree Association (NCTA).
“A lot of new people are interested in growing trees, and their farms will mostly be on the small side, which is fine. There’s more interest in growing trees and we’re getting more people involved in the industry,” said Richardson.
At Greene’s Trees in rural northern Peoria County, grower Jeff Greene said business had been good so far this season. Greene started his business 16 years ago when he was looking for a way to return some of his semi-rural property to agricultural use. He is currently growing around a half-dozen species of trees, most of them being various varieties of pines, on around 4 acres of land adjacent to his home.
Greene took time out to speak to a WCBU reporter while greeting customers shopping for you-cut and pre-cut trees, homemade wreaths and fresh-cut greens. Though his 2022 growing season and sales-to-date have gone well, Greene addressed some of the pest and disease pressures arborists commonly face, as well as recent increases in costs for production.
“The biggest pest here, primarily with the Scotch pine, is the scale. It’s a bug that lays their eggs, and there is a white coating over the eggs. If it gets bad enough it can look like the tree has been flocked with spray-on coloring,” said Greene, “Another (problem) on Scotch pine is blight. The tree will start out in the spring really green, but when it gets towards fall it will just turn brown and all the needles will drop.”
The growing season went by largely without pest or disease pressure in Greene’s orchard. ‘We didn’t have nearly as much die-off as we’ve (sometimes) had, and we’ve got quite a lot of new, young trees out there,” said Greene, whose you-cut and pre-cut assortment of trees sell for $60 to $70 apiece.
Greene Trees did not raise prices for their Christmas trees this year although the costs of production increased. However, the business owner said he may be forced to raise prices a couple of years down the road.
“Fuel costs, primarily, have increased and all of the nurseries I purchase seedlings from have increased (prices) substantially. I have not increased my prices because the trees I have that are of the age to sell I had bought when prices were cheaper. To be honest, I’d really feel terrible raising prices that much this year,” Greene said, adding that buyers “most definitely” can expect to pay more for live trees in the near future due to inflation.
Buy fresh, return to the land
Folks such as Richardson and Greene understand the allure of their tree farms and fully embrace the traditions that come along with a visit. “It’s the adventure of coming out to a farm, maybe going on a wagon ride, and getting outside to pick out the individual tree you like out of all the others,” Richardson said. “And you get the hot cocoa.”
Bringing a live tree home is an entirely different experience than taking an aluminum or plastic tree out of a box every holiday season, according to Richardson. “A live tree is going to have an aroma to it that will fill your house. You’ve got a living thing in your house, and it’s a little different from one year to the next. Live trees aren’t cheap, but you’re paying for a product that is good for the environment.
“A lot of trees are grown on land that isn’t really as suitable for other (crops), and they provide animal habitat while cleaning our air by taking carbon dioxide and turning it into oxygen through photosynthesis. It’s a natural product that you don’t need to worry about cutting down, because the farmer is going to grow more. So I think there are a lot of reasons a person might want to consider a live tree over an artificial one,” said Richardson.
Greene agreed that there are multiple reasons people return year after year to purchase live trees from his small tree orchard: “One is the smell of the live tree in the house and the other is tradition. A lot of families have had the tradition every year of going out and cutting down a live tree. I like keeping that tradition going.”
There were an estimated 32.8 million live or pre-cut Christmas trees sold in the U.S. in 2021, according to the NCTA, at an average price of $78. Those still looking for a live tree can visit the ICTA website, www.ilchristmastrees.com, to search for a Christmas tree farm in your area. The website also offers more information on the advantages of purchasing a fresh tree along with a comparison of tree varieties, tips for caring for your tree, and tree recycling facts.
The University of Illinois Extension’s index of Illinois Christmas tree farms can be accessed at Christmas Trees and More - University of Illinois Extension.