Like your annoying uncle on Christmas, the 2008 financial crisis just won’t go away.
If the selection of trees at your favorite Christmas tree spot seem a little skimpy this year, it’s a problem a decade in the making — the housing collapse that spurred the late-2000s crisis had lasting consequences for the entire nation.
Including, sadly, Christmas trees.
“I tried to get a few more Fraser firs, just because we sold out last year around Dec. 11, which is too early,” said Kathy Cooper, who runs Cooper’s Tree Farm with her husband. “And this year, I may not have enough to get through this weekend, which would be another week earlier.”
Farmers are running out of trees early this year because the 2008 crisis left them with a budget crunch that meant they couldn’t afford to buy the saplings needed to replant trees at their farms.
“It’s pretty interesting because every industry is different,” said Andy Kinsey, co-owner of Kinsey Family Farm, in a November interview with the Times. “But when the economy was bad, of course all businesses had to scale back. For tree growers, it’s a very expensive business. You need to make a ton of money all the time so you can reinvest in more trees. So, they couldn’t afford to replant.”
That struggle is still being felt today as Christmas tree farms in the area and across the country are having trouble supplying trees for their visitors during the holiday season.
Fraser firs, many of which come to the area from North Carolina, are the biggest struggle for Christmas tree farms to deal with. Kinsey said they're the most popular tree by far, and it’s been difficult to keep enough in stock because of the shortage.
He said many growers, like the ones he uses out of North Carolina and Virginia, don’t even want him telling people where he gets his trees because they’re already having to turn people away as it is.
“People call us every day and ask where we get our trees,” Kinsey said. “I’m like, ‘No, no, no, no. I want to stay in good favor,’”
With the financial crisis a decade past, here’s why it’s rearing its ugly head again: Fraser firs grow about a foot each year. Since the financial crisis happened 10 years ago, the limited crop that was planted during that time is ready to be harvested and distributed to different farms around the country.
Making matters worse, the trees planted in 2008 are now between 8 and 10 feet tall — the most in-demand tree size in the country.
“It’s just that lag in the economy. (It) was bad at that time, and now the product that was planted then is ready to sell,” Kinsey said.
Since many farms didn’t have the means to plant like normal, those repercussions are showing today.
“Some of them didn’t replant at all and just sold out — their crop sold out — and then they closed,” Kinsey said. “Some of them replanted half the crop because that’s all they could afford.”
Cooper said if she had known this was going to happen, she would have started planting more trees at her own farm so they wouldn't have to rely as heavily on their supplier in Cashiers, North Carolina.
“The gentleman that I buy my Frasers from, we’ve probably gotten from him for 20 years, so he’s a good, stable farmer,” Cooper said. “But if he runs short, he pulls from some of his other farmers around him or relatives that grow trees. And this year, I think there were five or six guys that have gone out of business up there that he counts on. So it’s shrinking as far as the farmers and providers up there.”
She said the shortage is so bad that her supplier couldn’t even sell her any low-quality trees.
“A lot of times they’ll sell you wreath trees, which are trees that are not very good, so you can cut them up and make your wreaths out of them,” Cooper said. “He didn’t even have those.”
Kinsey Family Farm typically sells Noble, Nordmann and Douglas firs — all of which are West Coast trees — along with Fraser and Concolor firs. Because of the shortage, though, he wasn’t able to get anything from the West Coast this year.
“I flew to Oregon for the first time, walked around, begged, pleaded and said, ‘I’ll pay you cash right now,’” Kinsey said.
He said they told him “nothing was going east of the Rockies.”
It’s all about loyalty and is simply part of the business, Kinsey said. Growers out west are making sure the locals who have been dealing with them for decades have what they need first. Growers on the East Coast are doing the same, all because of something that happened a decade ago.
“You can ask any of the growers and they’ll tell you they couldn’t afford to replant,” Kinsey said.