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Growers warn of Christmas tree shortage ahead of holiday period

PEOPLE have been urged to order their Christmas trees early this year, because there might not be any left closer to the holiday period.

The number of trees available on the home market is likely to be down on previous years due to a combination of factors including reduced production and an increase in exports to Britain.

Noel Moran, chairman of the 80-member Irish Christmas Tree Growers Association, said it is unlikely growers will have any trees left over.

"I would say a lot of outlets will be sold out well before Christmas this year," he said.

Irish grown Christmas trees, which are expected to sell at an average of €<35 each on the retail home market this year, are also exported to Britain, France and other countries including Norway.

However, plantings in Ireland began to level off from around 2001 as many growers felt the returns did not economically justify continuing in the business.

It is expected that 600,000 Irish trees with a retail value of some €<20 million will be available for home and export markets this Christmas.

Mr Moran, whose company, Emerald Christmas Trees, is based in Wexford, said a lot of Irish growers who traditionally would have dealt only with the home market have received inquiries from Britain.

Industry sources predict that exports of Irish Christmas trees to Britain will increase by 20% this year.

Britain normally imports around 1.2 million Nordmann fir trees from Denmark each Christmas, but that number is expected to drop to around 300,000 this year.

That’s primarily due to a lot of growers having made plans to leave the Christmas tree industry in Denmark in recent years for economic reasons.

But in order to qualify for the European Union single farm payment these growers had to get out of Christmas tree production and plough their land back into agricultural use by a certain date this year.

As a result, a lot of the crops that were in the ground were taken out a year or two early. That means the shortage of Danish Christmas trees, which was expected in a few years time, has been brought forward.

In an effort to compensate for the shortage of Danish trees, British growers have planted millions more Nordmann fir, but these will not be ready for digging out until December next year.

About 15% of all trees sold in Britain come from Denmark. This year that figure will be down to 2%.

Richard Deffee, a forester on the Cranborne Estate in Dorset, said that he was already being besieged by worried dealers.

"Over the last month we have had businesses calling up wanting a couple of thousand Christmas trees they would usually get from Denmark," he said.