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Virginia farmers say live Christmas trees are in short supply

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Posted at 9:32 AM, Nov 03, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-03 13:49:32-04

HAMPTON ROADS, Va. – It’s a tradition Kevin Clancey and his wife, Julianne Hosford, are starting even earlier this year with their 15-month-old son, Rowan.

Thanksgiving isn’t even here yet, but the Williamsburg family already has their sight set on a Christmas tree.

“We just always hear about the shortages,” said Hosford. “Every year it's like, ‘There's going to be a shortage. There's going to be a shortage.’”

Hosford’s husband agreed.

“Every year it seems like it's harder and harder to get a nice Christmas tree,” Clancey said.

At MillFarm Christmas Trees & Berry Farm in Williamsburg, owner Bill Apperson said it’s a problem facing nearly every farmer across the country.

“Right now, it's supply,” he said. “We didn't use to sell anyone else's cut trees. For years, we only sold our own trees. Then it got to the point where we couldn't grow enough. We still can't grow enough, but nobody else can grow enough either.”

Apperson said the main issue making trees hard to come by is high demand.

“I don't think anybody really saw this coming - anybody in the business saw it coming - and can even give a good explanation as to why the business all of a sudden became twice as popular as it was,” he said.

Apperson brings in many of his trees from his other farm in the mountains of North Carolina. The third-generation farmer said he’ll have about 200 trees to sell this year — a significantly less amount than what he’d normally have.

Additionally, while the cost of goods around the country is going up, Apperson is holding the line on his prices even if that means taking a big hit on his bottom line.

“Our profit margin is going to be reduced down to the bare minimum just to stay in business,” said Apperson. “Now, when we get trees in the mountains — a couple dollars a tree for freight. Now, I could be charged $10 a tree this year. There are no trucks available, so we're going to haul the trees ourselves and bring them here just so we can keep the price. We’re not going to raise our prices.”

MillFarm will cut its season short this year. They expect to be sold out of trees within weeks before Christmas Eve as more families get a head start.

“We’re doing everything we can to supply the customers with the trees and believe me, we wish we had them; we really do,” Apperson said. “There’s going to be a lot of disappointed people, and we don’t like that at all.”

Apperson believes the low tree supply will be an ongoing issue for the next decade. No matter how tough things might get, he said he’s been in business for 45 years and MillFarm will continue to be a mainstay.

Other local tree farmers said they’re also having an issue with high demand and low supply. Mike Helvestine, who owns Santa’s Forest & Nursery in Suffolk, said he’s now downsizing his tree lot and will slowly get out of the business.

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