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Ample supply belies talk of Christmas tree blues

Rest easy. The great Christmas tree scare is just that, a scare.

Yes, some parts of the state and much of the country are singing the blues. But here in Western New York, trees are plentiful and prices relatively stable.

At least this year.

"Local growers are OK," said Steve Jurek of Jurek Plantations in Clarence, one of the area's largest tree farms. "There may be a problem down the road, but this year everything is pretty much the same as last year."

While Christmas tree farmers elsewhere are suffering the effects of three summers of extreme weather, local farmers are expecting a healthy harvest. With that will come stable prices.

Jurek expects consumer costs to remain about the same as last year, while some local growers are projecting an increase of 5 percent to 10 percent -- about $2 to $3 a tree -- because of rapidly rising fuel prices.

"Overall, I think the harvest worked out fine," said Ken Lindstrom, although "I don't think the trees grew as much this year as previous years."

Lindstrom, an officer of Western New York Christmas Tree Farmers, has been growing trees in the Boston Hills for 17 years.

He said area growers usually raise their trees in higher altitudes, where they get more rain and don't face the "wild swings of weather compared to the South."

Jurek said he expects a 7- to 8-foot Frazier fir to cost $50 to $60 this year while a similar size Doug las fir or blue spruce may cost $40 to $50. The prices of a cut-your-own tree tend to be a bit lower because fewer varieties are available.

The Christmas tree farmers group, which consists of 15 growers primarily in Erie, Chautauqua and Cattaraugus counties, anticipates a harvest of 25,000 trees -- about the same as last year.

"I would say the one problem is the summer needles in the trees tend to brown up sooner," Lindstrom said. "What we have to do is shake the trees to get the summer needles out."

Lindstrom cautioned that some precut trees sold at big-box stores and similar venues often are trucked in from other states or Canada, and might have been cut in October. Trees grown in this state are cut around Thanksgiving, he said.

"Lots of . . . people don't know the difference," Lindstrom said.

In other parts of the state, tree farmers have suffered because of two summers of wet weather followed by last summer's near-drought conditions.

But near Albany, where rainfall totals are above normal, owner Earl MacIntosh said many of his Fraser firs have fallen victim to root rot brought on by the wet weather.

The Fraser fir has become a popular tree in recent years, but it is native to mountains and does not tolerate wet ground.

"They have a nice fragrance, and the ladies like the softer needles," said Louis Domes, who runs the Highlander Forest farm in East Concord.

In one piece of bad news, Domes said that the dry weather this year killed about 50 percent of his seedlings.

"Many of the young plantings that went in this year died," Lindstrom concurred. "In 10 years or so, we may have a depression."

Not far away in Holland, Bob Roth Sr. said his trees are doing just fine, with perhaps 5 percent of the seedlings falling to drought.

"There's no shortage here," said Roth. "We've probably got more than we'll sell. We'll just save them for next year."

In fact, Roth is helping organize "Trees for Troops." The program, in its third year, accepts trees donated by local growers for shipment to Fort Drum and distribution to military members and their families throughout the nation and overseas.

Last year, 11,000 trees were donated nationally. This year, Roth said, the drive expects to collect 17,000. Trees were scheduled to be picked up Wednesday.

Nationally, Oregon is the top producer in terms of trees harvested -- 6.5 million -- and in acres planted -- 67,800, according to National Christmas Tree Association figures. Pennsylvania has the most Christmas tree farms with nearly 2,200.

This state ranks among the leaders in all three categories: fourth with 1,650 farms; fifth in acreage with 32,600; and seventh in production with about 619,000 trees harvested annually.

In addition to Fraser firs, favorites here include blue spruce and Canaan fir, two varieties that Roth listed as popular "you-cut" varieties. The blue spruce, he added, has stiffer branches for hanging decorations.

News Staff Reporter Phil Fairbanks and news wire services contributed to this story.

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