Centuries ago in Canada, when the snow still existed on the ground, early March marked the tradition of maple syrup season established by First Nation’s people. Today, Canada is responsible for producing about 85 percent of the world’s maple syrup, a product valued at $300 million yearly. The United States is Canada’s largest export market and the world’s only other major producer of maple syrup. Unfortunately, these statistics and Canada’s springtime are at risk due to climate change. Climate change impacts the health of sugar maples and the ability to efficiently harvest the sap.
In order to produce sap, sugar maples need nights below freezing, followed by warm days, but today’s spring weather pattern is increasingly inconsistent and erratic due to climate change. Also, changing snowfall patterns have an impact on maple syrup production. With reduced amounts of snow, the ground will freeze deeper and take longer to thaw, therefore delaying the flow of sap. The amount of snow on the ground also dictates the rate at which the ground thaws, which can lead to a longer “sugaring period”.
Another factor that has an impact on maple syrup production is acid rain because it changes the soils composition. Where there is acidic soil, sugar maples produce fewer seedlings that will survive and mature, leading more adult trees to die. Droughts, smog, and severe heat waves cause additional stresses that can reduce the amount of sugar a tree produces. And without the cold winters that maple syrup first originated in by the First Nation’s people, diseases and pests are more likely to thrive in this warmer weather to harm maple trees.
The question of the matter is this; will maple syrup disappear? From a producer standpoint, the best that can be done is to be reactive to climate change. Producers can use high-tech techniques, better time their tapping, tap more trees and seed the soil with pellets to reduce soil acidity. However, climate plays a crucial role for these efforts to be effective. Without ideal temperature swing from -5 degrees at night to 5 degrees during the day, these new strategies could essentially be useless.
At this point in time, the United States maple syrup industry faces bigger challenges than in Canada. Scientists estimate that majority of the industry in the United States will disappear if climate change continues at today’s rate. Considering much maple syrup production happens in Vermont, USA north of Ontario, there is much concern for our side of the boarder as well.