As Christmas tree farmers retire, who will take over?

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. 

One of the factors driving a protracted Christmas tree shortage is the aging population of tree farmers, says Shirley Brennan, executive director of the Canadian Christmas Trees Association. 

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. 

Climate change, economics behind Canadian Christmas tree shortage

Canadians may find Christmas trees in short supply this year after climate change and changing farm economics led to a smaller number being produced.

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. 

According to the latest available data from Statistics Canada, the average Christmas tree farmer is 59, while the average farmer is 56. The average person in Canada is 41.7

“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.

A couple wearing plaid flannel shirts and a brown dog stand in a field of Christmas trees.
Gerald (left) and Erika (right) Bodnaruk outside at their Christmas tree farm near Medicine Hat, Alta….

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