True for all of those in his line of work, the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving were Casey Grogan’s busiest time of year. Earlier in November, he harvested 70,000 Noble and Nordmann firs at Silver Bells Tree Farm, his Christmas-tree farm in the foothills of Oregon’s Cascade Mountain Range. As the holiday neared, he watched his crop cruise off in the backs of around 100 semi-trucks, following the path of most of the Pacific Northwest’s holiday crop, 92 percent of which is shipped to outside the region. Nearly half of that lands in California, and most of the rest ends up elsewhere in the West, in Gulf states, or in Mexico.
This was a smaller season than Silver Bells has known in the past: The farm, which once shipped about 100,000 trees annually, downsized from 700 to 400 acres of Christmas trees in recent years. The reduction is part of a trend that has played out across the Pacific Northwest—the country’s leading Christmas tree–growing region, with Oregon the highest-producing state and Washington the fifth—and is the long-realized product of overzealous planting 20 years ago.
That was a period, Grogan explains, when prices were favorable, land and labor were affordable, and trendy new crops like hazelnuts, wine grapes, and blueberries hadn’t yet lured some farmers away from more traditional choices such as Christmas trees and grass seed. “I don’t think [farmers] realized how many trees were being planted compared to what demand was,” says Grogan, who sits on the board of the Pacific Northwest Christmas Tree Association (PNWCTA), a regional trade group.