Maple Syrup – Will it Become a Thing of the Past?

The Sweet Stuff and Climate Change

Do you realize that maple syrup production is being affected by climate change? It is! On a hike late this summer, I met a gentleman who had been tapping his maple trees for sap and making maple syrup for several years. Last year was different, he said. He had a lot of theories as to why – and so did I, as I had just read an article on climate change affecting maple syrup production.  But, very simply it comes down to earlier, warmer springs and biological processes that have become out of sync with weather patterns over time.

I could sympathize! My husband and I have noticed this with the fruit trees in our home orchard for the last several years. We really haven’t had a good harvest since 2015 due to snowstorms in April, blossoming trees during cold snaps, and the absence of pollinators, in general. No cider for us this year!

But, trees are trees – whether fruit-bearing or sap producing for a tasty, sweet treat. And, trees are being affected by climate change despite their current use, product, function, or perceived aesthetics.

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What about Climate Change is affecting Maple Trees?

  • Warmer, dryer seasons
  • Earlier seasons
  • Shortened seasons
  • slowed growth
  • a declining natural habitat for maple trees

Temperature change or variation from daytime to nighttime temperatures is what causes sap to flow, with ideal conditions exhibiting below freezing temps at night and above freezing temps during the day.  Recent conditions, with the extreme weather that accompanies climate change, find this pattern altered. We have been warming up earlier and earlier in the year, and the sugaring season has shortened. In fact, in recent years in the Northeast, sugaring season has occurred as early as January instead of the traditional timing in March.  As an article from NPR points out, despite efforts to increase taps, 75-degree temperatures in March of 2012, led to a decline in maple syrup production of over 25%! And, since 2012, this earlier than “normal” warming seems to be a more common occurrence than not. At the very least this trend was anecdotally confirmed by the Wisconsin maple syrup farmer I met in early September.

Since most people like maple syrup (I do not know any that don’t) and can also relate to a 75-degree day in January or February being abnormally warm for Northern latitudes where most maple syrup is produced, maybe the thought of doing without this sweet treat could spur some concern or more action regarding the mitigation of climate change!  I know it’s been on my mind since July when I first came across the NPR article on this subject.

All is not lost, however! As we know, farmers are typically resilient people and such is the case with the maple syrup farmer I met, as well as the ones mentioned in this article. Workarounds are being explored with each sugaring season.  Some of these include improved equipment and cleaning of the taps/tubing, or just using more taps, vacuum-assisted tubes, as well as preserving biodiversity to protect the general health of the forest.

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At a workshop I attended recently, a forester showed a video addressing the very issues explored in my blog post today. The video called Sugaring, shown on Climate Wisconsin, is only three to four minutes long and worth watching.

Has this happened in the past? Yes. Most certainly. But, is the season being altered with more frequency now due to regularly recurring environmental conditions that are adverse to sap flow and collection? Again, yes.

So, if you like your maple syrup – the real stuff – I encourage you to find ways to mitigate climate change in your neck of the woods!

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