“People don’t realize when they get into it how much work it is,” said Wiseman, a retired Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge manager. “I didn’t fully understand it, and I have been a farm boy my whole life.”
Wiseman has been active in the Pacific Northwest Christmas Tree Association, and has watched the membership dwindle. Farmers aren’t getting any younger — “I’m 75, for crying out loud,” Wiseman exclaimed — but many haven’t made firm plans for generational transfer of their businesses.
It takes six to eight years, depending on the species, for a tree to grow big enough for cutting, which means hard years might not affect supplies right away. For Christmas tree farms, the impacts of the Great Recession were still reverberating as the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
Then came June’s record-setting heat wave.
“It fried the west side of trees,” Wiseman said. “It hit us so hard.”
Temperatures at his farm reached 115 or 116, but when he put a thermometer down on the field, the ground measured 123 degrees, he said.
Nonetheless, he’s optimistic about this season.
“This rain has been a godsend,” Wiseman said before Thanksgiving. “The trees look almost as good as they ever did.”
Plus, snarled supply chains vexing other businesses might work to tree farms’ advantage, Wiseman said.
“Being a real Christmas tree advocate, we always compete with fake trees coming from China. They’re sitting in ships out there — can’t get them unloaded,” he said.
Other tree farmers also say they’re looking forward to a good season.
Ina Tappan, 85, kept her tree farm southwest of Battle Ground closed last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic. “This year we’re open with lots of nice trees,” she said.
If you’re thinking about cutting a fresh tree this year, don’t wait around. Last year, Christmas tree sales occurred earlier in the season, often selling out, according to the National Christmas Tree Association.
Expect to pay upwards of $40. Some farms charge by size, while others charge a flat price. For example, Washougal River Christmas Trees, a 160-acre farm, charges $49.95 for any size tree and $2 extra for a card transaction.
Most farms offer free hot cocoa or candy canes. Some, like Thornton’s Treeland and Washougal River Christmas Trees, have animals.
No matter which farm you visit, “the memories are there,” said Rene Scarcella, who runs the 20-acre McMenomy Highland Tree Farm northwest of La Center with her husband, Patrick McMenomy.
“You take kids with you and ask, ‘Do you like this tree or that tree?’ It’s something to do as a family,” Scarcella said.
As challenging as tree farming is, “we’re still in it for a while,” she said, adding that she and her husband love to watch kids run through the rows of trees and make memories with their families.