Christmas tree farms open earlier, but with fewer bells and whistles

Photo of Claire Bryan
Jeff Kehoe of Schenectady carries out his Christmas tree after cutting it down in the tree fields at Ellms Family Farm on Friday, Nov. 29, 2019, in Ballston Spa, N.Y. (Will Waldron/Times Union)

Jeff Kehoe of Schenectady carries out his Christmas tree after cutting it down in the tree fields at Ellms Family Farm on Friday, Nov. 29, 2019, in Ballston Spa, N.Y. (Will Waldron/Times Union)

Will Waldron/Albany Times Union

Black Friday is typically the famous grand-opening day for Christmas tree farms, but this year, in anticipation of families that are both eager for an outdoor outing and are hoping to avoid crowds, some opened early. The ones that didn't, wish they had.

“We’ve never seen this much interest this early,” said Garth Ellms, owner of Ellms Family Farm in Ballston Spa, about opening a week before Thanksgiving. “We probably could have sold a hundred-plus Christmas trees if we were open.”

Don’t count on shopping at the gift shop, eating sweets, and sipping hot drinks when out getting a Christmas tree this year. Many farms, though not all, are closing indoor areas and selling less food in efforts to follow state COVID-19 safety guidelines.

State Agriculture Commissioner Richard Ball encouraged New Yorkers to buy from one of the 750 local tree farms in upstate New York. The state ranks sixth in the U.S. for the number of acres dedicated to growing Christmas trees, according to the department.

“It is more important this year than ever that New Yorkers support local farmers and businesses when doing their holiday shopping, whether they’re looking for a Christmas tree or a delicious addition to their holiday meal,” Ball said at an event at Goderie’s Tree Farm in Johnstown on Monday.

“Very few (farms) decided not to open whatsoever,” said Robert Schoch, the interim director of the Christmas Tree Farmers Association of New York.

One farm that wasn’t comfortable opening, Castleton Christmas Tree Farms, sold its trees to a local apple orchard, Windy Hill Orchard, who felt like they had been offering a similar outdoor experience safely since September.

“When customers come in they come in in droves, big numbers. Particularly with the precut trees there is no way we can adequately address the social distancing and protect ourselves and protect our customers and our workers,” said Dan Hershey, owner of Castleton Christmas Tree Farms. “It is just not worth it for us. We are not that big of an operation. We are old people too, I’m 67 years old. I just don’t want to take the risk.”

The average price of a Christmas tree in the region ranges from $48 to $75 for a seven- to eight-foot tree. For the most part, farms in the region have not increased their prices since last year.

Prices have been up nationally in recent years, but it not because of the pandemic, said Schoch from the Christmas Tree Farmers Association. “Nothing dramatic… they are slightly up this year, going up with inflation rates.”

Christmas tree farmers typically buy seedlings for about $2. After planting those seedlings, it takes eight to 10 years for a tree to grow to a size ready to be cut. Out of 400 seedlings planted, after all those years, only about half will survive, said Hershey.

Scotch pine trees used to be the popular Christmas tree to buy, but most farms don’t sell them anymore or have very few left. Today, the Fraser fir is the most popular tree to buy by far, according to local Christmas tree farm owners and the Christmas Tree Association of New York. They are known for their needle retention, so they don’t drop needles all over a BTCC国际交易会所home, and their tree's overall softness.