Maple syrup production can change with the climate

Maple syrup production, a common cottage industry in Geauga County, could be at risk from climate change, said Les Ober, maple syrup producer and agricultural educator at Ohio State University’s extension office. .

Maple syrup production, a common cottage industry in Geauga County, could be at risk from climate change, said Les Ober, maple syrup producer and agricultural educator at Ohio State University’s extension office. .

Several large farms in the region, including that of Ober, have a sugar bush and a building nearby where sap tanks are transformed into gallons of maple syrup.

Few people see a sugar bush operation because they are off the beaten track and inaccessible to the general public.

That doesn’t mean people aren’t curious about the process of creating the syrup they pour over their pancakes and waffles.

Visitors to the fair were drawn to a display of early maple syrup production equipment at the Great Geauga County Fair Nature Resource Center, where Ober charted progress made over the past aeon.

The technology was fairly simple among Native American tribes before they started trading iron kettles with early settlers, he said.

No metal buckets, no plastic tubes, no taps were in evidence at the log cabin on the first day of the August 31 fair.

Les Ober pointed to a hollowed log to form a rough trough.

Trampling through mud and snow, the clan searched for sugar maple trees and hewed the bark with stone axes. They would collect the sap in bark containers, laboriously return to the fire and fill the trough, then add heated stones. Excess water was steamed off until syrup remained, he said.

Some of the syrup would be further heated until it forms a hard, high-calorie substance to use as a sweetener during the winter months, Ober said.

He described the final substance as black and unattractive by today’s standards – very different from the golden liquid seen in familiar bottles lined on the table across the room last Wednesday.

Native Americans, who had used the same method for hundreds of years, shared their technique with settlers, who quickly found ways to improve the process.

More modern equipment was included in Ober’s explanation of how Geauga County producers use an evaporator to create award-winning maple syrup.

Prior to his presentation, Ober said visitors usually come to the cabin because of its beautiful construction and to ask questions about it. They stay to watch the video, enjoy the presentation, or listen to his concerns about the future of maple syrup production in northeast Ohio.

How was the maple syrup yield in 2022?

“Not good,” he said. “This climate change is causing problems.”

His opinion joins that of Kristen Giesting, liaison officer for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Northern Forests Climate Hub, who published a 2020 paper for the USDA Forest Service Climate Change Resource Center titled “Maple Syrup.” It can be found at

In it, she describes in detail the problems that climate change is likely to pose to the industry by 2100.

“Sap flow is highly dependent on weather conditions, with temperature fluctuations creating pressure inside the tree to move the sap,” she wrote.

It takes about 40 gallons of sap to make a gallon of syrup, with a taphole typically producing up to 15 gallons over a four- to six-week season, Giesting said, adding New England to the Great Britain region. Lakes, maple syrup Production is important to local economies.

“In 2017, maple syrup production was a $147 million industry in the United States, with 4.27 million gallons produced from approximately 13.3 million taps,” he said. she writes.

Giesting cited air pollution, drought, and insect infestation as possible reasons for a future decline in sap collection, as well as less snow cover causing fine roots to freeze.

If all of this happens, the sugar maple stands to lose its suitable habitat in the southern and southwestern parts of its range, she wrote.

“The risk to this species is very geographically dependent. Future opportunities for production expansion may exist in the Great Lakes region and sap production may also increase in northern Maine and parts of Ontario and Quebec,” said Giesting, adding that various problems occurring all at once could result in a 400 km shift in the region of maximum sap flow. north around 2100.

In Geauga County, growers are keeping a close eye on the arrival of spring. It can vary by a month or more with buds appearing in late January or February, or not until mid-March, depending on the temperatures of that season.

“Changing spring conditions and warmer winter temperatures will likely shift and shorten the sap collection season, particularly in southern parts of the maple’s range, as the frost- thaw moves earlier in the year. In one study, 59% of maple syrup producers indicated that they had seen previous tapping seasons,” said Giesting. “By the end of the century, in a high emissions scenario, the midpoint of the sap collection season is expected to occur a month earlier.”

Over the next 80 years, Giesting said she expects sap production to decline from central Pennsylvania and southward.

“However, some regions will likely see an increase in maple syrup production, including parts of Maine, Canada and the Great Lakes region,” she said.

Adapting a sugar bush to climate change could include better forest management. Competing species should be removed, and maples with the highest sugar content — often those with a wider canopy — should be given priority while less-sweet maples could be removed, Giesting wrote.

“Before undertaking thinning, it may be advisable to test the sugar content of individual trees, as ‘sweetness’ appears to be an individual characteristic that is consistent over the years,” she advised.

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