Sales jolly for county’s Christmas tree farmers

But more customers are choosing lower-priced trees

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OLYMPIA — Clark County Christmas tree farms continue to supply the world with holiday decor as sales stay strong despite economic downturn.

“It’s a rule of thumb that generally Christmas tree sales are up in a down economy because people aren’t traveling as much, which reflects the importance of family and friends,” said Bryan Ostlund, director of the Pacific

Northwest Christmas Tree Association.

According to the Washington State Department of Agriculture, Christmas trees are the state’s 22nd highest-value agriculture commodity, with a production value of $43 million in 2010, making it the sixth-largest Christmas tree producer in the nation.

While 22 of Washington’s 39 counties grow Christmas trees, Clark County is the second-biggest harvester in the state and provides 15 percent of Washington’s Christmas trees.

The county’s Christmas tree farms span 1,176 acres, making it the fourth-largest crop for the county in terms of acreage, according to the 2007 U.S. Department of Agriculture Census.

Seventeen of those acres belong to Loran and Jane Larwick, who own and operate the Larwick Christmas Tree Farm in Brush Prairie. They opened their gates in 1994 with approximately 500 Douglas fir trees to sell. The Larwicks now manage roughly 18,000 trees and offer four different species.

“Everybody has their own idea of what kind of tree they want,” Jane Larwick said. “It just depends on their brand and what kind of tree it is they really like.”

The Larwicks’ farm is primarily a U-cut operation, where families come to pick and cut their own trees while enjoying hot cocoa, cider and decorations handcrafted by Jane.

While most Clark County farms are U-cut operations, some also operate as wholesalers, supplying trees across the nation and internationally to markets such as Guam, Japan, South Korea, Mexico and Vietnam.

According to Ostlund, the Christmas tree industry is an increasingly international business, which brings new challenges.

“Depending on the economy it can be difficult getting trucks up here, and this industry is dependent on time constraints,” Ostlund said. “So much has to happen in a very short period of time.”

With 75 percent of trees getting shipped within the few weeks surrounding Christmas, the industry relies heavily on truckers, which can be dangerous in economic downturns, according to Ostlund.

“The economy can really impact the availability of trucks but so far it’s been good this year,” Ostlund said.

A new trend that has accompanied the recession and economic strain is the tendency to shop more conservatively, with families choosing lower-priced trees.

“That’s something we had not seen before, this demand for economy trees,” Ostlund said. “They’re usually shorter, quicker grown, less dense. Consumers are budget-conscious and want to find a bargain, whether it’s a Christmas tree or anything else.”

The Larwicks have also noticed this trend but said their sales continue to stay steady thanks to the clientele they’ve built up over the years.

“If the recession is really bad people will go with the economical-priced tree rather than a more expensive tree,” Jane said. “But I think everybody just likes a good tree.”