Maple syrup production in trouble

From the Guelph Mercury, March 9, 2016 – Read the article here

The year 2012 will live on as a maple syrup nightmare, one of the worst years for syrup production in living memory. This year could rival it.

Four sap-running seasons ago, the sap simply stopped running after only a few days. Temperatures rose to t-shirt and shorts heights, and nature’s wondrous process of injecting sweet water through tree trunks and branches came to an abrupt end.

Dan and Heather Goetz of Shady Grove Maple Co. are about the largest maple syrup makers in southern Ontario. Dan said they saw the warm March weather coming and got an early start on tapping. Shady Grove is about 10 km west of Guelph.

That foresight resulted in a haul of sap amounting to about 50 per cent of a good year’s crop. Shady Grove operates on 14 woodlots, with 26,000 taps.

But the run could now be tapped out due to rising temperatures. Goetz said once the thermostat goes above 12 C, the magic will be over for another year. That appears to be on the verge of happening.

Maple trees on this woodlot could stop running this week if temperatures remain high.
The situation is similar, but somewhat worse, for producers like Doug and Cecilia Cassie at Cassie Maple Products near Elora. Unlike Shady Grove, the Cassies use the old fashioned bucket and tap (spile) method, like many in the region. Shady Grove uses a modernized vacuum tapping method that utilizes long tubing.

Doug Cassie said with the old fashioned approach it’s not possible to start too early when conditions are highly variable. Holes dry out and taps fall out. He has only had two or three days of tapping, with fairly good results.
“We predict that we’re not going to be in the sugar shack too much,” Cassie said. “Plain and simple, if you don’t get the correct temperature change, you don’t get the sap. The deciding factor is how fast the buds will bud out. Once they’re budded, were done.”

Goetz said 12 C is the threshold for the development of a bacteria in the sap, which will clog up the taps. And once buds appear on the trees, the sap loses its sugary goodness.

“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t worried,” said Goetz, standing outside his highly mechanized sugar shack, a stack of large barrels behind him. He hopes to fill those barrels with syrup. Three generations of the Goetz family have made syrup at Shady Grove.

“The trees are in charge,” he added.

There have been three very good years in a row, and Goetz said that string of good sap running luck couldn’t last. It appears to have ended this season.

The syrup is flowing now, but it will stop if the sap stops running.
Maple sap only runs when temperatures rise above zero during the day, and fall below freezing at night. Ideally, 5 C during the day and -5 C at night make for the best sap running conditions. If the temperature doesn’t fall below zero this week, the run will end.

“When I saw the weather patterns through December, January, all the big thaws we kept getting and the warmer ocean currents, they told me to tap early,” Goetz said. “I’m hoping to come close to a full crop, but we’re a long way yet. If it warms and stays warm like this, we’re looking at probably ending at the end of the week here. It can’t sustain without a freezing night. The forecast looks very bad.”

Terry Hoover is president of the Ontario Maple Syrup Producers Association. He called the current conditions “weird.” He has a syrup operation near Atwood, about an hour northwest of Guelph, where he has 2,000 taps.

“If I had to total it up, we’re sitting at less than half a year,” he said. “We still need a bunch more. We need another freeze before it starts up again.”

He said during 2012 tapping season there was a week with daily temperatures around 20 C. Buds popped out and tapping was done.

“That was the worst year ever,” he said. “Hopefully, we don’t have that. But it’s a possibility. That’s the thing with the joy of farming, you’re always dealing with Mother Nature, and she never tells you what she’s planning.”

The implications of a shortened season are that maple syrup prices will rise significantly due to a shortage. That’s not bad news for producers that have sap to boil. There isn’t much in the way of surplus from last year, Goetz said.

“The world export has grown 10 per cent every year, and we’re not putting that many additional taps in. It’s not a bad problem to have for producers. ”The implications of a shortened season are that maple syrup prices will rise significantly due to a shortage. That’s not bad news for producers that have sap to boil, Goetz said.