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April 16, 2021

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Christmas tree farms stand tall in Clark County

Clark County operations adjust to address virus, strong demand

By , Columbian business reporter
Published:
4 Photos
Eric Klopman of Klopman Farms walks through rows of noble firs while gearing up for Christmas tree season in Washougal. Tree farms are mostly outdoor operations, so it's relatively straightforward to add COVID-19 safety measures.
Eric Klopman of Klopman Farms walks through rows of noble firs while gearing up for Christmas tree season in Washougal. Tree farms are mostly outdoor operations, so it's relatively straightforward to add COVID-19 safety measures. (Amanda Cowan/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

After a year in which the COVID-19 pandemic has upended nearly every business and industry, Clark County’s Christmas tree farm owners are preparing for their turn at navigating the new normal.

The disruption to normal holiday travel and celebrations has made it especially tricky to gauge the demand for trees this year, according to some owners — but they’re all preparing for the season to be at least as busy as usual.

“We’re ready for it,” said Eric Klopman of Klopman Farms in Washougal. “We have plenty of trees in the field.”

Nicki Wiseman, co-owner of The Tree Wisemans between Ridgefield and Battle Ground, said her family has been getting more calls than usual from customers asking about the farm’s hours and operations, which prompted them to open for the season on Monday rather than their usual schedule of waiting until after Thanksgiving.

Teresa Palmer, co-owner of Washougal River Christmas Trees, said she’s also been fielding a high number of calls from customers asking if anything is different this year. The farm opened for two early-bird days last weekend — only the second time it’s ever opened before Thanksgiving, she said.

Industry sees higher demand for fresh-cut

Interest in real trees has been growing this year after the Christmas tree industry has struggled to attract new, younger customers in recent years as more Americans buy artificial trees.

Between 75 percent and 80 percent of Americans who have a Christmas tree now have an artificial one, and the $1 billion market for fake trees has been growing by about 4 percent a year — despite them being reusable.

The fresh-cut tree industry in 2018 launched a social media campaign called “It’s Christmas. Keep It Real!” to attract young families and media-savvy millennials.

This year, the Christmas Tree Promotion Board also asked Rob Kenney, creator of the “Dad, How Do I?” YouTube channel, to make an instructional video for newbies on how to shop for and put up a real tree, then keep it alive. It’s gotten tens of thousands of views.

“We want to introduce real Christmas trees to young families and new buyers and create greater demand among those people who say, ‘I’m a little nervous about just taking a tree and dragging it into my house,’ ” said Marsha Gray, executive director of the Christmas Tree Promotion Board.

“It’s almost a new — or a renewed — experience for a lot of families this year,” said Teagan Milera, co-owner of Lee Farms of Tualatin, Ore. “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.”

The Associated Press

Wiseman and Klopman both said they hope to see customer visits spread out over a wider range of time in order to avoid the crowds that typically show up on weekends.

U-cut tree farms have the advantage of being mostly outdoor operations, which makes it fairly easy to adapt to the pandemic’s social distancing requirements, although there are still a handful of changes.

“We’ve had to make some adjustments,” Wiseman said. “We’re bound by the same rules as everybody else with masks and social distancing, so we’ll be doing that.”

The Wisemans got another tree shaker and built a cashier shed with windows on both sides, she said, both of which are intended to keep customers more spread out. The farm is also adding washing stations and plans to disinfect its saws.

A few farm owners discussed having to make changes to their usual lineup of refreshments — Klopman and Palmer both said their staff would hand out cocoa or coffee rather than setting up self-serve stations.

Not every farm has expanded days this year — reached for comment on Facebook, a spokesperson for the Nobles Only farm said that the pandemic impacted the farm’s situation and the owners opted to stay closed and let the trees keep growing this year.

“We plan to be open, bigger than ever, in 2021,” they said.

A few farm owners said the industry is still feeling the lingering impact of a seedling shortage about a decade ago, which together with the recession resulted in the closure of some of the smaller farms, leading to concentrated demand for the remainder.

“Unless you were grandfathered in, it was really hard as a small farm under 200,000 trees to get seedlings,” Palmer said.

Farms are starting to catch up, Wiseman said, but it takes a long time to make up for the deficit. The Tree Wisemans traditionally stays open until Dec. 24, she said, but last year the farm had to close around the middle of the month in order to keep enough trees in the ground for subsequent years.

“It’s not like carrots, they don’t grow in a year,” she said.

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