Christmas tree shortage foils annual fundraiser

Department of Agriculture reports fewer containers of trees coming in

Skeeter Stebbins (in hat) and Chuck Dicker of the Rotary Club of Lahaina Sunrise unload trees from a refrigerated container to sell Thursday at the Lahaina Cannery Mall. Despite reports of tree shortages, the Lahaina club has brought in its normal amount of 500 trees this year. King’s Cathedral Maui in Kahului, which has been selling trees for 35 years, will not be selling them this year. THEO MORRISON photo

Skeeter Stebbins (in hat) and Chuck Dicker of the Rotary Club of Lahaina Sunrise unload trees from a refrigerated container to sell Thursday at the Lahaina Cannery Mall. Despite reports of tree shortages, the Lahaina club has brought in its normal amount of 500 trees this year. King’s Cathedral Maui in Kahului, which has been selling trees for 35 years, will not be selling them this year. THEO MORRISON photo

KAHULUI — A shortage of Christmas trees on the Mainland has led King’s Cathedral Maui, which has been selling evergreens for 35 years as a fundraiser, to discontinue sales this year.

“It was hard for us to find a company to go with this year,” said King’s Cathedral Maui Music Director Jamie Werner on Thursday.

The Kahului church’s normal supplier on the West Coast had issues with drought and problems with seedlings, Werner said. The church did find other suppliers, but they were charging three times more. It’s a cost that church officials did not want to pass on to customers.

She said that the situation is sad because some customers have made it a tradition of coming for years to buy a tree. The church was known to carry large trees, even 14-foot trees.

“It’s one of those things. You trust God,” Werner said of the situation.

She said that the church is looking to bringing back the tree sales next year.

The church will continue with its holiday festivities with a new Maui Christmas Fest at 6 p.m. Sunday. There will be free dinner from 5 to 6 p.m. with a program to follow with prize giveaways.

The church also will have a Christmas Lights Festival from 6:30 to 9 p.m. today and Saturday and Dec. 8 and 9 at the church fountains. There will be international food sold by various ministries at the church during the light show.

A production of “Birthday of King” is set for 7 p.m. Dec. 15-17. Admission for adults is $10 and ages 2 to 12 is $7. For information, call 871-7311.

Although Lowe’s, several blocks from the church, is bringing in more Christmas trees this year, a company spokesman on the Mainland explained that some suppliers had fewer trees to harvest this year. During the Great Recession in 2008, many farmers did not have the capital to plant the normal volume of trees, so now there are fewer trees ready to be sold, said Matt Michaels.

Michaels added that Lowe’s suppliers this year did not experience tree shortages.

Jonathan Ho, acting manager of the plant quarantine branch for the state Department of Agriculture, said that there are fewer trees coming into the state this year, around 190 containers, compared to 212 containers in 2016. The Agriculture Department inspects the trees for pests.

Each container can hold around 500 trees, depending on the size of the trees, so this year around 95,000 trees are expected, he said. Last year, there were around 106,000 trees.

In 2015, there were 215 containers and 230 containers in 2014.

Ho did not know why the numbers are down.

He said that there was a boom of Christmas tree shipments six or seven years ago. Many trees were not sold so farmers stopped growing them.

Growing the trees is costly, he said. If someone pays $60 for a tree, a farmer could get paid only $10 for each year of care for the tree because it could take six years or more to grow a tree to sell.

Trees that have been coming to Hawaii from Oregon and Washington state have been relatively free of pests, Ho said. He attributed this to educational outreach efforts by the department, which has suppliers shaking the trees before they are packed into containers.

The department has shipped containers of trees back to the Mainland because the trees have slugs and other pests not found in Hawaii.

At Lowe’s in Kahului, Manager Tyson Sacks said tree sales have been going well. There is one more container of Christmas trees coming in.

This year, Lowe’s is bringing in 1,500 to 2,000 trees. Last year, it brought in around 1,500 trees. Advertised prices are $29.98 for a 2- to 3-foot noble/nordman tabletop tree to $139.98 for a 9- to 10-foot noble fir tree.

Theo Morrison, a member of the Rotary Club of Lahaina Sunrise, which is selling Christmas trees in Lahaina, said that she had heard of the tree shortage but her club was not affected. The club gets its trees from Holiday Tree Farm in Oregon.

Almost 500 trees have been shipped, the same amount the club brings in each year.

The trees are $80 each and are sold on the south end of the Lahaina Cannery Mall parking lot. Hours are 3 to 7 p .m. Monday through Friday and 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekends.

There is free tree delivery in West Maui. For more information, contact Ann Neizman at 281-1807 or Ann.Neizman@boh.com.

On Thursday, there still were trees for sale at Walmart in Kahului, with prices ranging from $36.98 to $96.

At Home Depot in Kahului, where there were at least 10 people shopping for trees Thursday morning, prices ranged from $31.98 for a 3- to 4-foot fir tree to $198 for a 9- to 10-foot noble fir tree.

Locally grown trees are being sold at Kula Botanical Gardens (878-1715) and Kelly Bass’ family farm in Kula (280-9435).

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at mtanji@mauinews.com.

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