I have a deal with my kids on Sunday mornings. They leave me alone to review the bobbleheads on the Sunday shows in exchange for me making them a Sunday breakfast with the works: bacon, fresh berries, hash browns and above all, light, fluffy pancakes with lots of warm, real maple syrup. They get their carbohydrate overload while I try to keep down my heart-healthy oatmeal as I listen the the latest spin.
But it looks like Mother Nature may be forcing me to renegotiate the deal:
Sadly, thanks to increasingly ‘weird’ and warming weather, the long-standing tradition and $65 million business of “maple sugaring” in the northeastern U.S. is in danger of becoming a historical footnote.
It’s because the cycles of what is called ‘cold recharge’ – where weeks of below-freezing temperatures, followed by warmer temperatures – are shortening to the point where sugar maples are not producing the sap which is later boiled down to make maple syrup.
It this recharge cycle which allows the sap in sugar maples’ limbs to turn to ice, creating an area of lower pressure which in turn pulls up more sap into the frozen areas from the roots up. In this state, the trees convert their stored starches into sucrose that will fuel spring budding. As the warming weather melts the sap ice, liquid sap is pushed in all directions. All one has to do is drill a hole for the sap to flow.
But for some places in the Northeast, the sugar-tapping season is either getting shorter and shorter, sometimes lasting only a week, as it did in Quebec last year.
"This is a weather-related industry," says Sam Cutting, owner of Dakin Farm in Vermont and who has been in the sugar business for 40 years. "There are always problems in the maple industry: gypsy moths, floods, droughts."
Warmer weather has also translated to problems with pests such as the pear thrip, and the non-native Asian longhorn beetle destroying maple trees. Deer populations have also exploded in some places, meaning that more maple shoots are eaten before making it to maturity. It requires a mature tree of 40 to 50 years old to make maple syrup safely.
My daughter has reminded me that I could purchase the less expensive "maple-flavored" syrup instead, but given that they have found they have found mercury in High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS), the primary ingredient in those syrups, I find that an unacceptable alternative.