NC State Economist: The Christmas Tree Industry in North Carolina: Characteristics and Challenges Ahead

By Alejandro Gutierrez-Li, Ph.D., Assistant Professor and Extension Economist
Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics, NC State University

Christmas is celebrated in different parts of the world. In many people’s imagination, the most recognizable symbol of this holiday is the Christmas tree. Decorating Christmas trees has been a long-rooted tradition both in homes and public spaces. Due to their widespread popularity, natural Christmas tree production is an important industry that makes sizable contributions to the rural economies in which trees are grown in the United States.

According to the National Christmas Tree Association (NCTA), the history behind the use of decorated Christmas trees is not precisely known, but some records suggest that the practice began in Europe around the 1500s. Christmas trees were introduced to the U.S. by German immigrants at the start of the nineteenth century. Their commercialization started around 1850, when trees were taken directly from forests. In 1901, the first known Christmas tree farm in the U.S. opened in New Jersey (NCTA, 2022a).

Christmas trees are grown and harvested in all 50 states. Five states, Oregon, North Carolina, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin lead the way in terms of both tree production and sales (U.S. Department of Agriculture, 2019). Around 30 million natural Christmas trees are sold in the U.S. every year. To satisfy this market demand, over 100 million trees are currently growing on the more than 15,000 farms across the country, and employ over 100,000 full- or part-time workers (NCTA, 2022b). The U.S. is also a leading exporter of Christmas trees, with trees shipped to a number of countries including Canada, Mexico, Brazil, Russia, Japan, China, and the Philippines (PNWCTA, 2022; NCAGR, 2022; Jones, 2012; NCCTA, 2022). Throughout the U.S., more than twenty species of Christmas trees are grown including Cedars (Deodar and Easter Red), Firs (Balsam, Douglas, Fraser, Grand, Noble, Nordmann, White, Afghan, and Austrian), Pines (Red, Ponderosa, Scotch, Virginia, and White), Spruces (Black Hills, Blue, Norway, and White), and Leyland Cypress (University of Illinois Extension, 2022).

In 2021, nationally, around one-quarter of natural Christmas trees were purchased from “Choose and Cut” farms, 28.5% from chain stores (like Costco or Home Depot), 16.2% from retail lots, 11.6% from nurseries, and rest from other sources like churches or Boy Scouts (NCTA, 2023). The median price of a natural Christmas tree was $76.87 in 2019, and has since increased due to higher labor costs, extreme weather in parts of Oregon and other producing regions, a reduction in imports from Canada, and a rise in fuel and transportation costs (Carrns, 2021).

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