PORTLAND -- Darcy and Cory Miller have seen many market fluctuations during the nearly three decades that they have grown and sold Christmas trees at Deep Creek Tree Farms in Eagle Creek, Ore.
But never one as brutal as this.
"Things are bad right now," Darcy Miller said. "It's time to cut and burn."
She means that literally.
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Miller, other growers and industry experts say low wholesale prices and sagging consumer demand mean a record number of unsold trees in fields across Clackamas, Marion, Polk and Benton counties will be chopped down at season's end and heaped onto burn piles.
Oregon remains No. 1 in U.S. production of Christmas trees with 7.34 million sold in 2008 at a value of nearly $110 million. Sales increased by nearly 300,000 trees over 2007.
But the up-and-down price cycle that typically roils the industry, combined with a national recession that's left consumers skittish at best, is bound to trim those numbers over the next several seasons.
Christmas trees are, by nature, a cyclical crop, said Mike Bondi, Clackamas County's extension forestry agent. Once a field is planted, it takes anywhere from five to 10 years before the trees are large enough to cut, ship and sell.
Now supply is far outpacing demand. As a result, a 7-foot-tall noble fir that sold wholesale for $25-$30 only three or four years ago might fetch half that this season.
Two factors are denting the equally important demand side of the equation, Bondi said.
One is the rise in popularity of artificial trees. They've been enough of a thorn in the industry's side that the Pacific Northwest Christmas Tree Association, the industry's Salem-based trade group, launched a marketing campaign this year in an attempt to persuade consumers to "go green" by buying real trees.
The other factor is a sagging overall economy, which is likely to make buyers snap up shorter, less expensive trees or perhaps purchase a single tree rather than trees for multiple rooms.
So where is that likely to leave unharvested trees that by next year will be too big to market as Christmas trees?
"If they are Douglas fir, some farmers will just thin every third row, come back in 10 years and manage it as forest land," Bondi said. "A lot of other species are going to be disposed of in January."