At this very moment, thousands of Canadian grown Christmas trees are making their way to destinations all over the world, including the United States, Russia, El Salvador, Japan, even Trinidad and Tobago. In fact, when it comes to exporting Christmas trees, Canadians are at the top of the game. As the number one Christmas tree exporter in the world, Canada exported over 1.5 million trees in 2013, culminating in a value of almost $28 million.
Following a decrease in demand during the recession in the United States in 2008 and 2009, things have steadily been looking up for Canadians in the Christmas tree exporting business. What’s more, a looming Christmas tree shortage in the United States has Canadian Christmas tree exporters looking ahead to further potential growth.
“Canada exported almost 1.6 million trees in 2013,” says Ross Prusakowski, EDC economist. “Because the majority of these trees (about 1.5 million) went to the United States, a low Canadian dollar should help bolster revenue for Canadian exporters this year.”
One province looking to further benefit from the Christmas tree industry is Nova Scotia. The maritime province is the second largest exporter of Christmas trees (behind Quebec), exporting 95 per cent of their total annual production.
Higgins Family Christmas Trees
One such company is Higgins Family Christmas Trees. Run by Forrest Higgins, the company has been in the business since the 1940s, when Forrest’s grandfather bought the land near the small village of Moose River, N.S. for $2.00/acre. The rest, as they say, is history.
“This is a family run business through and through,” says Forrest. “Just yesterday we needed to do a run to get more trees and we didn’t have anyone to do it – so my wife jumped in the big diesel truck and got them herself!”
The Higgins family is always looking for ways to expand the export side of their business. “Our biggest market is the U.S. but we have sold in the past to Guatemala, Puerto Rico and Kuwait, just to name a few.”
Forrest points out that working with EDC has given them a sense of security. “When EDC is involved, we know that everyone is playing by the rules. We use their credit insurance to insure our receivables up to 90 per cent, so when we get new customers we know we won’t get stuck with unpaid bills.”
Like all businesses, the Higgins Family Christmas Tree farm is faced with many challenges. With only two intense months to make their income for the year, they face labour and equipment shortages every season.
And while it can be frustrating to put so much time and money into growing the trees – and then not having enough people or trucks to get the trees to their final destinations – Forrest makes sure to point out that “the success of the family business is thanks to the dedicated effort of so many good people over the years.”
“The Christmas tree industry provides jobs for about 4,000 people in rural Nova Scotia,” says Colette Wyllie, Industry Coordinator with the Christmas Tree Council of Nova Scotia. “It’s a valuable industry for us. We are always looking at ways to improve our growing techniques, produce high quality trees and increase exporting opportunities.”
In an effort to increase revenue, Canadian Christmas tree exporters are looking for ways to get their trees in the hands of Europeans. “There is a growing market in Europe for real Christmas trees and a shortage in countries like the UK,” says Wyllie. “They appreciate the environmentally friendly aspect of real trees – our trees are 100 per cent renewable, they provide oxygen, and they seed naturally meaning very few chemicals are involved in production.”
You’re a mean one, Mr. Grinch
But here’s where the Grinch comes in. Well, more a beetle than a Grinch – but a slimy character all the same. Europe has long rejected Canadian Christmas trees over fears of pine wilt nematode, a parasite that kills trees and is carried by the pine sawyer beetle.
With funding from Growing Forward 2, a federal, provincial and territorial investment program, the Christmas Tree Council of Nova Scotia recently partnered with Dr. Suzanne Blatt of Agriculture and Agri-food Canada to conduct extensive research in an effort to demonstrate to Europe that their trees are nematode free.
Wyllie is optimistic. “If positive, the idea is to present the findings to regulators and gain access to the European market.”
Whether or not the European market will open to Canadian Christmas trees is difficult to predict, but it is clear that Canadian Christmas tree exporters are helping people all over the world celebrate the holidays.