Thanks to a quirk in the calendar, Thanksgiving came a week later this year than it did in 1995. That may have shortened the holiday shopping period, but it had good results for John Hagle, owner of the Hagle Tree Farm in Somis.
"We are way ahead of schedule because the time frame is squished down," said Hagle, one of about a dozen pine tree growers in Ventura County who do the bulk of their sales the first couple of weeks after Thanksgiving. "The first weekend we had about a 60% increase from last year."
While Hagle experienced a rush of shoppers, other growers in the area saw little or no boost in sales. But rainfall during the last couple of months has given the tree industry cause for holiday cheer.
"We had these beautiful rains, the root systems are nice, they're not under any stress," said Lin Ayers, who with her husband, Allan, owns Faulkner Farm in Santa Paula. "We've had so many drought situations in the past, but we have no problem with that now. The soil is nice and damp and everything is fine. This is a very good fresh tree year."
In addition to helping strengthen the roots, the mid-November rain in Ventura County cleaned dust off the trees, Ayers said.
Faulkner Farm began the season with a supply of 4,000 to 5,000 redwood and pine trees, planted on four of the farm's 12 acres. Christmas trees take about four years to grow to a marketable height, so while the Ayerses sell one crop, trees on separate parcels are maturing for the future.
Along with the home-grown trees, the Ayerses stocked about 500 fresh-cut fir trees shipped down from Oregon.
"We expect to pretty much go at a good clip this year," Ayers said.
The positive outlook for the county's approximately $400,000 annual crop is a far cry from the sentiment of the late 1980s and early 1990s when an overabundance of Monterey pines lowered the market price for the trees in California.
That combined with a glut of less-expensive Douglas firs imported from the Pacific Northwest to drive some growers out of business.
"What we're hearing from the Northwest is that the terrific oversupply is gone, and if it's not gone, it's just about on its last legs," Ayers said. "Our cut trees are priced higher this year. The demand is back and the price is going up."
Thursel Roatcap, who owns the Santa Paula Tree Farm with her husband, Ralph, said her business was a little slow in the early going, but she likewise was encouraged by the quality of the fresh-cut trees.
"The trees really soaked up the water. It might keep them fresher if people are inclined to let them sit around after being cut," Roatcap said. "Monterey pines usually need a lot of care. They need water to stay fresh. They are also more flame retardant this year--they are very good keepers."
For the first time in their 27 years in business, the Santa Paula Tree Farm has a supply of Noble firs brought in from the Pacific Northwest. The move, Roatcap said, was an attempt to keep up with the Joneses.
"Other farms are bringing in trees now," she said. "We thought maybe we better get on the ball."
Between the added attraction of fir trees at farms around the county, as well as accessories such as hay rides, caroling and other entertainment, the Christmas tree business has gotten pretty competitive locally.
But Ayers said the market is strong enough to support the growers.
"The quality of trees is very high," she said, "and most of the people who have weathered the [difficult years] now have a good product."