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Turlock Christmas tree lots feeling effects of shrinking industry
christmas tree shortage 1
Eileen Mendoza looks for a Christmas tree at RAM Farms in Turlock. RAM Farms has already sold over half of its Christmas tree inventory this season, as a shortage has brought buyers to the Turlock farm from all over the area (ANGELINA MARTIN/The Journal).

Turlockers who haven’t yet purchased a Christmas tree should do so quickly, as local lots are running low.

A waning supply of trees amongst growers in the Pacific Northwest has led to higher prices and fewer lots not only here in town, but throughout the state as a whole, with those who have been fortunate enough to be able to set up shop running out of inventory early.

At RAM Farms in Turlock, owner Karen Macedo said the business has raised the prices of its trees in order to keep up with rising costs associated with a dive in the Christmas tree industry. The farm is also already over halfway through the 800 trees they purchased from a grower in Oregon, which is far ahead of the typical schedule, Macedo said. They expect to sell out much earlier than usual, as more buyers from cities further away are frequenting the farm more than ever before.

“We’ve seen a slight uptick in people looking for real Christmas trees because there aren’t that many lots in our town or in other towns this year,” Macedo said.

Things first took a turn for the worst a decade ago, when the effects of the Great Recession forced tree farmers to make a choice: either plant fewer trees, or move away from the crop altogether and begin growing more profitable crops.

The result? A smaller supply of trees that has been unable to meet demand, resulting in higher prices from both growers and sellers, and some lots even being forced out of the market altogether.

Oregon growers supply the bulk of California’s Christmas trees, and in 2007 were banking on an increase in demand. They planted enough trees to meet that expected demand, but instead, sales took a dive. The oversupply of trees resulted in even fewer plantings the following year, with some growers opting to go ahead and quit the business completely.

“Up where we get our trees, a lot of farmers are changing to other types of commodities, like hazelnuts and marijuana, that are more lucrative,” Macedo said. “There will always still be a market, though, because a lot of people still love the smell of a fresh Christmas tree in their home.”

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Luis Estrada and Jose Mendoza of J.C. Orozco Reforestation carry a Christmas tree to a customer’s truck on Tuesday. Operator Chris Orozco said that, surprisingly, the lack of trees immediately available for tree lots to purchase from Oregon growers has actually helped his business on the southeast corner of Fulkerth Road and the Highway 99 exchange (ANGELINA MARTIN/The Journal).

J.C. Orozco Reforestation has operated the tree lot near the Fulkerth Road/Highway 99 interchange for decades, and this year operator Chris Orozco said that, surprisingly, the lack of trees immediately available for tree lots to purchase from Oregon growers has actually helped his business. Several lots that typically provide competition for Orozco, like the location that until this year could be found on the corner of Monte Vista Avenue and Geer Road, are not operating in 2018.

“He wasn’t there this year because of the shortage, and so I got a lot more customers this year,” Orozco said.

The Orozco family grows their own trees in Oregon and travels to the Central Valley annually to sell, but this year, a planting error meant their trees weren’t yet big enough to be sold. Orozco had to buy from a different grower in order to make his trip down to California, thus resulting in inflated prices by as much as $10 to $15 at his lot as well.

According to the National Christmas Tree Association, the average price of a tree has been $75 for the last two years, and officials predicted a roughly two percent increase in prices this season.

Despite the price increase, trees have still been selling well, he said. During a normal year, he would head back up to Oregon after selling out of trees on Dec. 20. This year, he plans to leave on Dec. 14. He’s already looking forward to next year, he said.

“Because of this shortage, our trees are going to be a lot more valuable for us,” he said.