First toilet paper, now Christmas trees? Coronavirus sparks potential new shortages

Click to play video: 'Winnipeggers looking for – and finding – normalcy in Christmas tree shopping'
Winnipeggers looking for – and finding – normalcy in Christmas tree shopping
WATCH: Winnipeg tree seller this year is shaping up to be one of the busiest – Nov 24, 2020

The first wave of the coronavirus lockdown in March sparked worldwide demand for toilet paper as packs flew off the shelves, and the second wave may cause another unusual shortage — the Christmas tree.

As the virus continues to surge across Canada, forcing lockdowns and tighter restrictions, many people may be searching for “normalcy” this holiday season, and finding that in a large evergreen tree, according to Shirley Brennan, the executive director of the Canadian Christmas Tree Growers Association.

READ MORE: Christmas trees selling like crazy in Winnipeg

“We are seeing a huge demand this year. The farms that I’ve talked to across Ontario have seen record numbers of people coming out for the opening week, and the second week is just as strong,” she said.

“Some tree farmers are even concerned they won’t have any trees available after this week.”

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Brennan explained that although people may drive by a tree farm and see plenty in the field, that does not mean they are available. Trees, like the popular Fraser fir, take around 10 years to grow, so farmers can’t cut them all down in order to meet the growing demand.

“Farmers have a number of trees they can sell every year, and then they hit that magic number, then they start selling precuts, or say ‘sorry we’re sold out,'” she said.

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COVID-19: Christmas amid a pandemic still ‘absolutely magical’ for four-generation Santa family

The first weekend of December is typically the busiest time for tree sales, and Brennan said this year she has talked to farmers who have already sold 50 per cent of their evergreens and may not even make it to the weekend.

A number of reasons are driving the uptick in interest. More Canadians are staying home for the holidays amid pandemic restrictions and hoping to create special memories, Brennan said.

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Also, many pick-your-own tree farms allow families to enjoy a winter activity outside, where there’s a lower risk of viral spread.

“People realize ‘I’m not going away for Christmas this year so I am going to get a real tree.’ Families want a tradition and want to embrace this holiday season because they missed so much this year because of COVID,” she said.

Amy Watson of Foresters Point Christmas Tree Farm in New Brunswick said on Saturday families were lining up outside to get their hands on an evergreen.

She said the tree farm is following COVID-19 safety protocols, and people are social distancing and following the rules.

“We sold yesterday more trees than we sold all season last year,” she said, added that she believes people are hoping to get trees earlier this year because they want some holiday cheer. She said she people are also wanting to support local this year more than ever before.

“At several points yesterday there wasn’t anywhere left to park. There were families carrying trees out, people dotted throughout the field … it was a fun day,” Watson said.

Click to play video: 'Coronavirus: Customers asked to shop local for Christmas'
Coronavirus: Customers asked to shop local for Christmas

Demand also high in the U.S.

The high demand for Christmas trees is not just in Canada.

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Oregon, the number one supplier of fresh-cut trees in the United States, expects to ship nearly six million evergreens this season to places as far away as Japan and China, according to the Associated Press.

“The season is running approximately six to seven days ahead of what we’ve seen in the past. We’ve never seen the demand like we’ve had this year,” said McKenzie Cook, who ships between 1.8 million and two million trees a year combined from McKenzie Farms in Oregon and Happy Holiday Christmas Trees in North Carolina.

Lee Farms, a sixth-generation family farm in Tualatin, Ore., opened for the season a week earlier than last year. It sold more than 100 trees in the first four hours and was seeing new faces at a business that normally welcomes the same customers each year.

“It’s almost a new — or a renewed — experience for a lot of families this year,” Teagan Milera, co-owner of Lee Farm told the Associated Press.  “Having that real tree smells so good in your house, something to take care of and decorate together, that nothing beats that for the holiday season.”

Have an open mind

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Although the demand for a real Christmas tree is higher than normal this year, it does not mean finding one is impossible. Canadians just may have to have “an open mind” when searching for the perfect tree, Brennan said.

The most popular Christmas tree, the Fraser fir, may be snapped up early, so people may have to find other trees instead, she said. That’s because Fraser firs are not only popular, but more finicky to grow, so may be harder to come by, she explained.

“But we’re finding this year people are not as concerned with size, but more concerned with getting out and getting a family tradition in. That’s a great thing,” she said.

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