12.06.16


Harvest Time

Starting in September, growers inspect trees for pest infestation, discoloration, and general health. About 20-30% of the trees are then deemed salable and marked for harvest. When the time comes for harvest in late fall, tree-cutters topple up to 1,500 trees a day with chainsaws. The felled trees are gathered into bunches of about 10 to 15 -- and that’s when the excitement begins.

Small farms looking to maximize profits might opt to have customers chop down their own trees, or to sell them pre-cut at the farm. But for larger suppliers -- such as those located in Oregon, the largest producer of Christmas trees in the world -- the months of November and December involve quite the high-flying spectacle in order to provide places like Home Depot and Lowe’s with enough trees to meet the holiday demand.

With such numerous, bulky yields, harvesting and delivering each tree by hand would be impossible. And so, the bundles of trees take to the air. The 800-pound bunches are hooked to helicopters with strong cables, dangling from the skids as they travel from farm to warehouse. A single helicopter is able to transport as many as 800 Christmas trees in an hour. Once at the warehouse, the trees are prepared for shipment. First, they enter the “shaker,” a contraption that removes dead needles. Then they’re tied up with a rope, and after a final nip and tuck, the trees embark on the next leg of their journey.


Now Coming to a Store Near You

Transport from the warehouse to the retailer comes with its own set of challenges. At high-tech warehouses, palletizer devices stack trees into a 30-tree-high compact cube. Without such gadgets, tree loading is an arduous process, since each tree must be loaded and unloaded individually.

From the warehouse, the 2,000-pound cargoload snakes across the country in shaved ice-filled truck beds, while some board refrigerated ships to an international destination. For example, Oregon’s trees deck the halls in far-flung locales like Malaysia, Dubai, and Guatemala, as well as along the West Coast.

This high-wire process of delivering trees to retailers also necessitates some luck in avoiding winter storms. Christmas snow might be romantic, but it’s devastating for farmers who need to get their crop in primo roadside locations before Christmas. Once the trees have made it safely to the lot, there’s still one more journey in store: parking lot to living room. For those who want to avoid the hassle of bungee-cording a tree to their car rooftop, there’s an app for that: shoppers can now order an Uber to deliver their tree.

Who knows -- maybe this whole process would be easier if Christmas trees could be transported by sleigh. For now, we can rely on a well-executed supply chain to deliver our annual Christmas cheer.


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