Christmas tree growers are looking forward to good sales after this year's rain resulted in a high-quality crop.
Growers at the British Christmas Tree Growers Association (BCTGA) annual Christmas tree competition said the weather helped the trees overall but warned of problems with harvesting if conditions stayed wet. They are optimistic about sales this year, despite caution among garden centre buyers.
Garrocher Tree Farm owner Mike Craig, who was named champion Christmas tree grower, said: "The market is firming up. It hasn't been a brilliant year for garden centres so they are being cautious with purchasing, but it is bringing supply and demand back into kilter. So little sunlight with so much rain is the opposite of what you want but the trees have done well."
Oakberry Trees owner Richard Underwood, runner-up in the competition, added: "It has been a good year with the rain. It has been better than last year, which was very dry. The trees have a lot of water in them, which means they will keep well, and they have grown quite a bit in height.
"There has been a bit of yellowing, but there are some really healthy, juicy trees. Last year they were parched and as light as a kite. You can tell the difference by the weight. They live on the water inside so will last much longer." But he said wet conditions would cause harvesting problems. "I'm not looking forward to the mud."
BCTGA secretary Harry Brightwell added: "The rain has been quite good in many ways for the trees but it has caused some problems. We're hoping for it to be dry for a while so the equipment can get into the fields. But there are some lush, good-quality trees out there."
Industry representatives at the event said there was a shortage of taller trees, which meant quality came down.
Kaj Ostergaard, former director of Danish Christmas tree growers association Danske Juletraeer, said: "There are not enough trees for the market but retailers are buying fewer because they are being cautious so there will be a good after market in December. The prices have gone up and they are double what they were in 2005. They are a bit too high."
Hortico director Piers Lavan said the extra growth caused by the rain may have caused less full growth at the tops of trees. "There's a shortage of 7-8ft trees and when there is a shortage the quality goes down. People are choosing leggy trees to reach the height. Now the quality is coming back but the problem is still there at the top end."
European view Shortage of taller trees
Former Danske Juletraeer director Kaj Ostergaard told growers at the competition that there is a currently a shortage of taller trees.
He presented data on seed sales showing low sales at the start of the last decade, with under 10,000kg sold in 2000, for example, explaining the current shortage. Sales at the end of the decade were much higher, with over 60,000kg sold in 2008, suggesting over production in three-to-five years time. The solution is for growers to open up demand in eastern Europe, Ostergaard argued.
Hortico director Piers Lavan said the situation is unlikely to affect UK growers. "It doesn't affect farm gate sellers. For many years the UK was dependant on imports but we're going to the stage where we're not. The UK can supply itself."