Spanish Christmas fir cultivation suffers from drought

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christmas fir

GIRONA – A Spanish Christmas fir in your home? In five years it may no longer be possible. Spanish Christmas fir growers are concerned. The combination of drought and high temperatures causes a large proportion of the planted trees to die.

Ninety percent of the Christmas fir trees grown and sold in Spain come from the Montseny-Guilleries area, between La Selva (Girona) and Osona (Barcelona). However, they have been experiencing problems with cultivation for a number of years. The lack of precipitation and high temperatures have caused many “newly planted trees to die, interrupting the cultivation process,” explains Albert Gallifa, president of the Catalan Association of Christmas Tree Growers (Canac). Considering the type of crop, this causes problems in the long term: “In five years, the consequences of this drought will be noticeable because we will have fewer trees to sell,” he says. Growers fear that they will not be able to meet (international) demand and that prices will rise.

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Mediterranean climate

Montseny-Guilleries is the southernmost point in Europe where Christmas fir trees are grown. “Being a thousand meters above sea level allows us to grow this typically Atlantic species in a Mediterranean climate with many more hours of sunshine,” says Gallifa. The sector purchases germinated seeds from countries such as Denmark, Georgia and Belgium. They are already three years old and about 20 centimeters high. After being planted in the Catalan area, they take another four years to grow to about one meter in height. After this, they are ready to be sold.

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Extreme summers

Although the spruce is a tree that can generally withstand drought, the past summers, characterized by extremely hot and dry weather, have taken their toll. The top 10 producers are estimated to plant an average of 10,000 spruce trees each year and “in the last three years, about 300,000 have died,” Gallifa explains. “This is serious in the long term because 90 percent of trees die during the growth phase.” So in five or six years “we won’t have any production.”

Small growers are taking measures

Small growers are less affected because they can be more flexible in their approach. David Masferrer, grower of 1,000 to 2,000 spruce trees in Espinelves, says they have been able to “take action”. He lost half of what he planted this year. “We try to plant in shadier places or near the river. Or closer to home, so we can spray the trees one by one with a hose or special backpacks,” he explains. The more work and water consumption, the more expensive the Christmas tree ultimately becomes. “We are at a point where we have to see what happens because we have never experienced a drought like this before.”

Plastic variant

In 2008, the artificial Christmas tree conquered the Spanish market, causing sales of real fir trees to decline significantly. “But we’ve been recovering from this for a while because people are realizing that natural Christmas trees are much more sustainable,” Gallifa says. Although there has been an upward trend in recent seasons, with an increase of 20% in 2021 and 12% last year, sales remain stable this year. Catalan growers have tapped into new markets in recent years, especially in European countries. They supply smaller nurseries, garden centers, home furnishings stores, shopping centers, florists, and market stalls.

Also read: Extreme drought in Catalonia: Rainfall levels drop to desert-like values

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