From: Cillian O’Brien – CTV News
TORONTO — Parts of the picture-postcard open roads around Nova Scotia are lined with forests full of majestic evergreen pines.
On the approach to the UNESCO World Heritage town of Lunenburg, N.S., a sign declares “Lunenburg County: Balsam Fir Christmas Tree Capital of the World.”
The modern Christmas tree tradition originated in Germany in the 19th century, so it’s appropriate the Lunenburg County Christmas Tree Producers Association is based in New Germany.
“Nova Scotia’s cool, moist climate is ideal for growing Balsam Fir,” the association’s website reads.
“Because of its lush foliage, fragrant aroma and superior needle retention, Nova Scotia Balsam soon became the tree of choice throughout much of North America.
“By the 1950s annual exports had exceeded 3.5 million, half of which came from Lunenburg County.”
But times have changed. This bold claim has a few international challengers. Christmas trees grow from more than 20 species around the world.
How the continents compare
Christmas trees in North America are mostly Balsam Fir, native to eastern and central Canada, and Fraser Fir, native to the Appalachian Mountains of West Virginia, according to Jimmy Downey, president of the Association of Quebec Christmas Tree Growers.
European Christmas trees tend to be Douglas Fir and Nordmann Fir, he explained.
Internationally it would seem Europe has the closest claim to Christmas tree capital of the world.
There the largest growers are in Germany and Denmark, with Germany alone producing more trees per year than the whole of the U.S.
According to the Christmas Tree Grower Council of Europe, Germany produces 20 million trees per year, 15 million of which are Nordmann Fir. Denmark produced 11.5 million trees.
The latest figures from Statistics Canada show the country as a whole has 23,787 hectares dedicated to Christmas tree production.
Quebec has the most land for Christmas trees at 8,255 hectares, followed by Nova Scotia at 6,179 hectares.
Christmas tree farm sales in Quebec in 2018 amounted to just over $60 million, followed by $15 million from Nova Scotia.
But Canada’s figures are dwarfed again by its neighbour to the south, where the towns of Estacada in Oregon and Indian County in Pennsylvania both vie for the title “Christmas Tree Capital of the World.”
Oregon is the top grower in America, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The latest statistics show some 295,162 acres on just over 15,000 farms were used for Christmas tree production in 2017.
That year more than 15 million trees were cut, amounting to around US$377 million in sales.
“Quebec is the main exporter of Christmas trees, most go to the U.S. where there’s a good return on the dollar,” Downey told CTVNews.ca during the peak harvest in mid-November.
“There was a big downturn about 10 years ago, when there were too many trees and suppliers were selling and losing money. The market is now for the suppliers and we have a small profit.”
Downey, whose third-generation farm in Hatley, Que. sells up to 30,000 trees a year, said Quebec’s Eastern Townships produces about 70 per cent of the provinces Christmas trees.
He admitted there was a “bit of competition” between Quebec and Nova Scotia.
“In Quebec we have the numbers because we export our trees, Nova Scotia trees stay more in Canada,” Downey said.
He added that the number of members in his association has shrunk, down to 73 from 300 about 20 years ago. Farms have become bigger, he said, providing examples of three farms amalgamating into one, a trend seen across agriculture.
Christmas tree shortage
Christmas tree prices in Canada are up 15 per cent on average annually for the last five years, Paul Quinn of RBC Dominion Securities told the Canadian Press.
A shortage of trees, that can be traced back to the 2008 financial crisis, has pushed up U.S. demand for Canadian trees and created higher prices across the continent. Quinn suspects the supply shortage will remain for at least a couple of years.
“As the economics get better for tree growers, you’ll see them planting more trees. Unfortunately, you had to have that foresight 10 years ago,” he said.
In the U.S., the average price of a tree rose 123 per cent to US$78 in 2018 from US$35 in 2013, according to the U.S. National Christmas Tree Association.
Back in Quebec, Downey raised his prices this year, thanks largely to the short supply and strong demand.
— With files from The Canadian Press