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Bah humbug! Christmas trees could be more expensive this year

A combination of factors, including environmental and shipping issues could raise the cost of Christmas trees around the country.

Christmas cheer might cost a little extra this year.

A combination of environmental factors, the 2008 recession, a tight supply of trees and pandemic-related issues with shipping and trucking could mean higher prices for Christmas trees at farms around the country this holiday season.

While there may be some shortages for individual growers, consumers shouldn't be worried about not being able to get a tree at all this year, according to Tim O'Connor, the executive director of the National Christmas Tree Association.

"We continue to say it’s not a shortage," O'Connor told TODAY. "You think back to the time when you went to a grocery store and there was empty shelves of toilet paper or paper towels, that is a shortage, but we don't expect anything like that.

"There’s not a community in America that’s ever come to my attention where after a week of being open, there’s not a tree left to be bought. That just doesn’t happen."

However, higher prices look to be almost certain in many locations across the country.

"I think it’s possible that they will go up," O'Connor said. "The No. 1 factor is that the cost of trucking is no doubt more expensive than last year."

Jack Sangillo, whose family has run Anne Ellen Christmas Tree Farm in Manalapan, New Jersey, for 20-plus years, cited a number of factors that could raise the price of trees this year.

The trees usually take 10-12 years to mature to be ready for sale, so the 2008 recession has played a role in the current supply of trees being smaller. Many farms closed or planted fewer trees in 2008 due to economic hardship, and the effects are being felt now.

“Another problem that a lot of farms are having is just environmental factors,” Sangillo told TODAY. “We have had a hard time growing trees because of different wet periods and different dry periods because of how the weather is going. Plus, farms up in Vermont and New Hampshire had an early frost, and it kind of killed off a lot of the trees."

Anne Ellen Christmas Tree Farm has about 50,000 trees in the ground and usually imports about 2,500 trees, but attaining those has been a struggle this year.

“I called every tree farm in New Hampshire and Vermont and they’re all sold out,” Sangillo said.

He also estimated that a load of trees coming from Canada cost about $2,000 in freight fees last year and now could be up to $3,500 this year.

Neil Courtney, the general manager of Pennsylvania's Buffalo Valley Produce Auction, has also witnessed the squeeze from the transport issues.

"Trucks are a challenge," he told NBC's Kerry Sanders on TODAY. "There’s no question about it. The supply chain has got some major bumps in it right now."

The Buffalo Valley Produce Auction is the middleman between farmers and trees usually sold at small tent sales and big-box stores. About 50,000 trees are expected to be auctioned off this year, compared to 98,000 before the pandemic at the auction.

"There’s a lot of new people here to buy, and they’re buying because their suppliers no longer have trees," Courtney said.

The rising costs of everything — from gasoline needed for chainsaws to cut down the trees to the netting used to hold the trees in place — will also be passed on to the consumer.

Wendy Ruh, who owns Sunset Christmas Tree Farm in Blairstown, New Jersey, with her husband, Tim, also cited another sticking point that has been an issue for businesses across the country.

"There's also the cost of labor," Ruh told TODAY. "We've had that problem for several years now. It's hard to find people."

The extreme weather in various parts of the country also has had an effect. Oregon, which is the biggest producer of Christmas trees in the country, had triple-digit temperatures this summer that killed off up to 90% of the trees at some Oregon farms.

"We had a few 115-degree days this summer that just fried so many of our trees," the owner of a farm in Clackamas County who wished to remain anonymous told TODAY.

"There are thousands of trees on this farm that have been damaged in this manner that's going to render them unsalable," Oregon tree farmer Mark Schmidlin of Schmidlin Farms Christmas Trees told CNBC.

Sales of Christmas trees boomed in many areas last year due to people being on lockdown in the pandemic and many others deciding not to travel to see family and staying home instead.

"Last year was definitely a surprise, and I do think it was because of the pandemic," Ruh said. "It was a record year for a number of Christmas tree growers. We had people that had not been to our farm before because other farms were closed or sold out."

It's not just real Christmas trees, either. Artificial trees are expected to cost more this year as well, according to the American Christmas Tree Association. Live trees are more affordable at an average price of $78 compared to $104 for an artificial tree, according to the ACTA, but even the supply of fake ones is being affected by the congestion in supply chains, the backups at ports and the shortages of shipping containers affecting numerous products.

"I think the thing consumers should do is plan to get their tree right after Thanksgiving," O'Connor said. "If they’re ready to get their tree, that would be a good weekend to go do it. It would ensure they have the most choice.

"It's likely this year that places will be a little more picked over. We’re optimistic there will be a tree for everyone who wants one, but be flexible. You might have your mind set on a certain variety, and you may have to take a different one or go to multiple locations to find it."