By Jacey Gould

This year, the manager of Noble Christmas Tree Farm in Oregon harvests his Christmas tree crop like he does every year. But this Christmas season, some things about the farm are different.

Bob Schaffer has been farming Christmas trees for over 50 years. But like many Christmas Tree farmers this year, he is facing a host of challenges with his crop due to climate change.

Christmas Trees and Climate Change

So, how does climate change affect tree growth?

Climate change causes extremes in weather, which means that droughts and floods are worse and occur more often. This has made saplings less likely to grow. Other environmental factors such as pests and hot weather have also hindered the growth of the trees planted for this decade.

“It’s the extremes that you really can’t prepare too much for as a production farmer, but it’s something you definitely worry about,” says an expert from North Carolina. The farmers there–and pretty much everywhere else– happen to be facing the same challenges as those in Oregon.

And not only this year, but over this last decade, things have been rough for those who love being in the Christmas tree business and have made it their life’s work. With Schaffer’s many years of experience, he has seen his tree farm through it all.

“I started in Christmas trees back in the Mid-60s, in the fields shaping Christmas trees. [I] did this for several years in high school and college,” Schaffer told The Conversation.

The 2019 Christmas Tree Shortage

Many of the trees we are seeing on the market right now were planted during the recession, since Christmas trees need between 6 and 12 years to become fully grown. When farmers planted Christmas tree saplings in 2008, they planted much fewer than usual, meaning that the number of trees this year is already smaller without factoring in climate change. With climate change, the effects are even larger.

So, Christmas tree numbers are declining. But, what’s the big deal? Why not just buy a fake tree?

The Problem with Fake Christmas Trees

Although it may seem like the solution for the decline of real Christmas tree, buying a fake Christmas tree is actually worse for the environment than buying a real tree. This is why the decline of real Christmas trees is such an important problem to address. While real Christmas trees can (and should) be recycled, plastic trees are obviously not biodegradable.

Having Christmas trees in our environment is essential for more than Christmas. According to Good Housekeeping magazine, real Christmas trees also “improve air quality by emitting oxygen, and they provide habitat for wildlife.” This is an excuse to get a real tree in addition to the fact that they smell great.

Christmas Tree Allergies

Of course, allergies can get in the way of getting a real tree. However, there’s a chance you’re not allergic to the tree–rather, you’re allergic to mold, duct, or pollen. Luckily, there are multiple solutions to this. These include using a tree shaker at your Christmas tree farm, using water with a little bleach to wipe the mold off the trunk, making sure the tree is totally dry before you bring it inside, and using an air purifier.

But if you must use a fake Christmas tree, it is recommended that you sell it or donate it to a secondhand store when you’re no longer using it.

All in all, Christmas trees are a tradition that won’t die any time soon. We can only hope that the shortage will not continue for much longer, but there isn’t much we can do besides continuing to take action to help reverse climate change.

Bob Schaffer loves his job and hopes to continue doing it for a very long time.

“The beautiful thing about Christmas trees is…every year, we get cards, letters, Christmas cards and pictures of people who purchased our tree, [and] it’s so gratifying to get those cards and letters from consumers who bought our product and have enjoyed it in their homes during the holiday season.

“And I thoroughly enjoy that as part of my job.”