Extreme Winters, Climate Change Impacting Maine’s Maple Syrup Industry

A winter of weather extremes has made for a difficult maple syrup season, and scientists who study climate change say more challenges are on tap.

"The temperature extremes...are different in a way that you're not getting enough sap," said forest ecologist Andy Whitman, Director of Sustainable Economies at Manomet. "Variability is a real problem."

He says compared to 50 years ago, Maine's maple syrup season is, on average, eight days earlier and 10 percent shorter.

Tree health is also expected to decline.

"By the end of this century, the habitat for maple trees will be 40-percent less" in Maine, said Whitman.

Maple syrup producer Mark Cooper says the difficult weather trends make the sugaring season a challenge.

"We have to work a lot harder to get the sap," he said.

From Coopers Royal Heritage Farm, Cooper has been producing maple syrup for 30 years.

"Some years, our production is well below half of what it used to be," he said. "The wide swings in temperature is something we didn't use to deal with. Now we're getting 60 degree days in February, and below zero temperatures in March."

He worries about the long-term future of the industry. In the short-term, his investment in vacuum technology is paying off. A tubing system in his maple trees can force out sap when the weather isn't cooperating.

Cooper said a vacuum system can cost producers several thousand dollars.

Whitman thinks only the larger producers who can afford the technology may be able to produce maple syrup in the future.

"I think in the future, smaller producers are going to exit," he said.

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