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A Sticky Situation?

What are the effects of climate change on the maple industry?

By Richard Banks

Climate change has already had an effect on the maple industry, says one expert. Yet, thus far, syrup production continues to increase with the advent of new technologies.

Dr. Timothy Perkins, director of the Proctor Maple Research Center at the University of Vermont, says the tapping season—the narrow window of freezing nights and daytime temperatures over 40 degrees needed to convert starch to sugar and get sap flowing—is on average five days shorter than it was 50 years ago.

That, however, doesn’t mean we’re making less syrup. “We’re actually making more syrup than we did [50 years ago], says Perkins. “The yield per tap has increased, because we’ve gotten much, much better at it. We have better vacuum, better sanitation processes at the tap hole, which keep the tap hole open longer, better tubing design and layout. So all of those things have really offset the losses of the duration of the season.”

Still, says Perkins, there is potential for greater harm to come to the sugaring industry. “We need this freeze/thaw condition in order to drive the sap exudation process. If we don’t have freezing and thawing weather, then you really don’t produce much sap. If we change the climate enough so we don’t get enough freeze/thaw [days], then it’s going to be more difficult to make syrup, more costly to make syrup in this area.

“The second very long-term thing is trees tend to grow in areas based upon the precipitation and temperature regimes, and competitive pressures associated with those. So, if we change the climate of this area a great deal, it’s going to mean that other tree species will grow better here and eventually replace the species that we have here [now]. So if the maple trees aren’t here or aren’t as abundant, you won’t make as much maple syrup.

“It is,” Perkins continues, “really quite impossible to predict what it’s going to be like 100 or 200 years from now, without knowing where the temperature is going to be at that time. But there certainly is the potential for the maple industry to be affected more.”

Interested in learning more about maple syrup production? Visit the University of Vermont Proctor Maple Research Center website at uvm.edu/~pmrc.

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