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Less travel could boost Ore. Christmas tree sales













PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) -- Oregon Christmas tree growers say a decline in holiday travel could translate to more sales this year as families stay home to celebrate.






"There's kind of a small shift toward more family gatherings," said Dave Silen, a manager for Holiday Tree Farms of Corvallis, the state's largest Christmas tree producer, shipping about 1 million trees a year. "Christmas trees provide a good opportunity for that situation," he said.






Oregon is the nation's biggest producer and exporter of Christmas trees, selling about 7.3 million trees a year, more than twice that of No. 2 North Carolina, The Oregonian reported.






Christmas trees represent a $101 million industry in Oregon. In 2008, there were 1,780 Christmas tree operations here.






The largest customer for Oregon trees is California, where about 45 percent of Oregon trees are sold, followed by Mexico at 16 percent.






Bryan Ostlund, executive director of the Pacific Northwest Christmas Tree Association, said sales look good, but prices are "pretty soft" this year.






"My sense is the total numbers are at least steady and this year could go up a bit," he said.






The reason for the soft prices can be traced back to the confidence levels growers had in 2003, when the trees now being harvested were planted.






"Prices were good, people felt comfortable, and they planted more," Ostlund said.






Seven years later, ample supplies have prompted many growers to drop prices.






Some growers, however, say their business has actually improved.






"Trees are selling better than they did last year," said Joe Sharp, managing partner of Yule Tree Farms in Aurora, which ships about half a million trees a year.






Oregon's annual harvest is well over a third of the nation's total of 23 million to 25 million, according to Mike Bondi, an Oregon State University forestry professor.






Bondi said the industry faces changes on three fronts.






The first is genetic, an attempt to design a better Christmas tree that retains its needles. The second is improvement in pest control and the third is improvements to harvesting technology to cut down on the large labor costs involved.






"It's all done by hand," he said.






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Information from: The Oregonian, http://www.oregonlive.com






Copyright 2010 The AP.



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