Christmas tree shortage could lead to high prices

There’s a shortage of Fraser firs and it’s not from the weather.

NEWTON COUNTY, Ga. — While our drought is improving overall, severe drought continues for parts of the metro including northern Newton County.

The drought's impacts can be best seen on Christmas trees planted in January. They're shorter than they should be.

However, they aren't the ones that will be displayed in your living room this year.

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Fifth generation farmer Chuck Berry, owner of Berry's Christmas Trees, told Severe Weather Team 2 Meteorologist Katie Walls the trees being harvested now were planted four to six years ago.

"The cypress family grows about three feet a year. So somewhere in the four to six-year range, you can get a six to seven-foot tree," Berry said.

To see what these trees were up against, Walls went through six years of rainfall data. In that time-frame the metro has experienced extreme rainfall and extreme drought.

In 2016 for example, Atlanta received 10 fewer inches of rain than normal. Whereas in 2018, we finished the year with more than 20 inches in surplus.

Berry says the dry and wet years all even out in the end.

"From a consumer standpoint, it really didn't affect the tree. You're not going to know a difference when you come out and cut it. You wouldn't know it from a rainy season to a dry season," he said.

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While the weather hasn't had a negative impact on his nine varieties of Christmas trees, the recession from more than 10 years ago has had an impact on the supply of a popular tree grown in North Carolina, the Fraser Fir.

"Back in ‘07 and ‘08 when the recession hit, not everybody was spending a lot of money on Christmas trees. Well, if you're not selling trees then you don't have the money to plant trees. Those trees that would've been planted in ‘07 and ‘08 are the trees that would be ready for harvesting now," Berry said.

The shortage is putting some local organizations in a bind.

"Most of the time it's the small consumers, the churches, the civic clubs that may buy just a handful at the time. They're the ones not being able to find trees because of that," Berry told Walls.

Berry buys several hundred Fraser Firs a year from our neighbors to the north and has even sold some of his to metro churches and schools for their fundraising efforts this holiday season.