Maple syrup is one of the biggest industries in Vermont but this sweet season in the Green Mountain State is continuing to be impacted by our ever-changing climate.
We spoke with Mark Isselhardt, the Maple Specialist and Maple Program Leader with the University of Vermont Extension. Mark says, “generally, the season is starting earlier, its ending earlier. The overall duration season is being compressed.“
Mark made mention that weather primarily affects the trees rather than the climate, but climate change can cause more than just warming temperatures.
Mark expands on that thought by saying, “the sugaring season might be six to eight weeks long, but the bulk of the syrup produced during that period is on a, relatively, few number of days. If you have anomalous, really warm temperatures like we saw in 2012; we had five days in the seventies in March. We saw production and quality drop almost immediately after that event. Now, if the forces that made that event happen, become more frequent, then it will definitely be a concern.”
Nevertheless, there’s one specific type of maple tree that is more sensitive to the climate. Mark adds, “a species like sugar maple can sometimes be called a goldilocks tree where it likes it a little bit warm but not too warm. A little bit wet, but not too wet.” One option available to overcome this struggle for producers is to diversify their forests with more than just sugar maples.
“My colleague Abby van den Berg has done a lot of research on looking at red maple, finding the yields are really comparable to sugar maple. It’s also a different species and having healthy forests include a diversity in species.” This beneficial knowledge means that producers can try to adapt the best they can to our changing climate.
“Vermont produces half the U.S. crop and it’s a really important driver in terms of keeping forests as forests, so its definitely a concern but ultimately, some of these big forces, that’s going to be responding how things change”. Despite the changing season, Isselhardt says each tree is producing greater yields. He credits those gains to better technology and equipment.