Brad Clements, 82, has been growing Christmas trees near Milton, Ont., since the 1980s but is getting ready to pack it in.
“We’re looking at closing it up in the next year or so, if not sooner,” said Clements, owner of Clembrook Christmas Farm.
Clements and his wife aren’t passing the business on to a family member, and say the property likely won’t continue on as a Christmas tree farm.
He’s not alone.
In the last 10 years, Canada lost 1,017 Christmas tree farms and 19,165 acres of Christmas tree farmland, according to Statistics Canada.
Much of that loss has been due to farmers retiring or passing away, Brennan said.
“When I look at those numbers in those areas, I know that’s what’s happening because I know those tree farmers that are no longer operating,” said Brennan, who says the association’s membership is about 70 years old on average.
It’s a heightened example of a broader problem facing Canadian agriculture.
Census data shows farmers — both Christmas tree and otherwise — are aging at a faster clip than the overall population. Royal Bank of Canada economists warn the trend will likely worsen an existing agricultural skills shortage in the years ahead.
“It’s not only for Christmas tree growers, it’s also for canola, soybean growers as well — it’s a trend we’re seeing across the economy,” said Mohamad Yaghi, agriculture and climate policy lead for RBC Economics, and lead author of a report from earlier this year about the demographic transition in agriculture.
Cost of doing business
Across the agriculture industry, cost has become a major barrier to entry for younger, would-be farmers, said Yaghi. He noted a tractor can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, to say nothing of the add-on equipment that’s often needed.
“Agricultural land has gone up significantly, the cost of technology has also gone up significantly, and when we look at the support mechanisms available to younger producers, they’re not very plentiful right now, unfortunately,” he said.
Christmas tree farmers also have to contend with a particularly long lag time between setting up their farm and earning their first profits. It can take between eight to 14 years for a tree to grow to maturity, which means a new farmer may not see a return on their investment for about a decade.