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No Christmas tree shortage for East Texas, growers say

By Jo Lee Ferguson
Dec. 3, 2017 at 11:31 p.m.

Jase Magouirk, 4, of Elysian Fields tries to decide on the perfect tree with his parents, Lee and Shea, and 1-week-old sister, Lyndee, Thursday  at Merket Christmas Tree Farm in Beckville.

The national Christmas tree shortage might not be so national in East Texas, with area growers saying there are plenty of trees to rock around this Christmas, with branches that might be even more lovely than usual.

"With the amount of rain we've had this year, the trees have done exceptionally well," said James Robinson, owner of Danville Farms in Kilgore, which grows Virginia pines. "They're well filled out and are nice and fresh."

National news reports have cited information from the National Christmas Tree Association as saying there's a tree shortage that can be traced back to the recession of about 10 years ago.

Tree farmers reduced their crops as a result of the recession. Also, Hurricane Harvey is being blamed for a number of Gulf Coast tree farm closures this year, the Beaumont Enterprise reported.

Robinson and Jackie Merket, owner of Merket Christmas Tree Farm in Beckville, say, though, that the main shortage relates to a specific kind of tree not grown in Texas — the Fraser fir.

"We have a more than adequate supply of locally grown trees," Merket said. His farm grows Virginia pines and Leyland cypress trees, which he said are soft and don't have a scent or drop needles.

For that reason, the Leyland cypress is good for people with allergies, he said. His farm also grows a form of the Arizona cypress known as "Blue Ice."

"The shortage that's in North Carolina … it's not expected to ease up for probably three or four years," Merket said, explaining that the growing season in Texas allows trees to grow at several times each year, so they can grow to about 6 or 7 feet in fewer than four years. In North Carolina, which is known as one of the states with the largest Christmas tree production, there's only one growing season each year, Merket said.

Both farms said they also were able to purchase some of the Fraser firs to sell, as well. Robinson said some people prefer those because of allergies.

"The only thing I think we're short on on those trees were very small trees, the 4- to 5-foot trees," Merket said. "The 6-foot and above trees, we were able to get all of those trees we need. The only people who were shorted were the ones waiting until the last minute to make their orders. We have a good selection of those trees and all of them are very nice. What we've got, there's no shortage of the quality."

Availability away from the farms, though, might depend on the retailer. Ellis Home and Garden knows some retailers had problems getting the trees they want this year, but Ellis was able to increase the number of Fraser firs it has for sale this year.

Ellis Home and Garden buys its trees from a supplier in the Blue Ridge Mountains in the North Carolina area, said Allen Ellis, one of the company's founders.

"We've dealt with the same grower for right at 20 years," Ellis said. "He actually called me (this summer) and said, 'You know there's going to be a shortage this year.' We turned our order in back in June or July."

Robinson said this year's rains means the trees grew well. He shears them twice a year into Christmas shape.

"I sell all the trees I grow, and usually sell out about in the first two" or possibly three weekends, Robinson said.

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