EVANSVILLE, Ind., Dec. 4 (UPI) -- People shopping for live Christmas trees this year may experience some mild sticker shock. Supplies are tight, and that means prices are going up.
"Our price went up 25 percent this year," said Richard Velotta, an assistant Scoutmaster for Boy Scout Troop 399, which sells Christmas trees every year in Evansville, Ind. "We tried to absorb half of it, but we had to pass on half the cost to consumers."
Moderately increasing tree costs are becoming a trend as prices have been inching up over the last couple of years. In 2017, the average price for an American tree was $75, according to the National Christmas Tree Association. In 2018 it was $78.
The average 2019 price won't be available until after the Christmas season, but across the country, vendors are reporting shorter supplies and higher prices.
"We have a situation where we have fewer trees than 10 years ago," said Angie Smith, the executive director of the Pacific Northwest Christmas Tree Association.
Between 2007 and 2017, the number of Christmas trees cut in the United States dropped by about 13 percent, according to the most recent figures by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. During that same period, the number of acres devoted to Christmas tree groves dropped by 14 percent.
The cause of the shorter supply dates to 10 years ago and the Great Recession, Smith said. During that time, demand dropped suddenly as people cut back discretionary spending. Many growers went out of business, switched crops or planted fewer seedlings.
"A lot of farms closed," said Cher Tollefson, the owner of the Historic Kirchem Tree Farm, a cut-it-yourself Christmas tree farm in Oregon City, Ore. "It's a hard business. We've diversified, we're growing pumpkins now."
It takes a decade for Christmas trees to mature. So, now -- 10 years later -- that smaller recession-era crop of trees is hitting the market.
But despite the smaller stock, industry experts say plenty of trees are available.
"The idea that people are going to go to get a tree and find the lot empty is absolutely not true," said Doug Hundley, a spokesman for the National Christmas Tree Association. "We're managing quite well to provide all the trees that people want."
The Boy Scout tree lot in Evansville, for example, was able to secure its normal order, assistant Scoutmaster Velotta said. They just had to put the order in several months earlier than normal.
Larger retailers, like the Home Depot, also have their regular supply.
"Our merchants source Christmas trees several years in advance, so we aren't experiencing shortages," said Jasmine Gurley, a spokeswoman for the Home Depot. "All Home Depot stores have trees available now and will continue to get shipments for several weeks."
This year's reduced supply hasn't led to widespread shortages thanks to a glut of Christmas trees in recent years, especially just before the Great Recession, Smith said.
During that time, prices had plummeted and millions of unsellable trees were destroyed in the field. Now, the supply is more in line with demand, she said.
"There's a tighter supply now," Smith said. "But there is absolutely no shortage whatsoever."
What's more, the price bump may be welcome relief to growers, some of whom are struggling to stay in business, Hundley said.
"Now, we're having a modest bump in prices for trees," he said. "That's a blessing for Christmas tree growers. And it's helping keep the industry sustainable."