Global Warming Is Causing a Maple Syrup Shortage

published Mar 9, 2017
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(Image credit: Emma Christensen)

What are pancakes without a generous pour of maple syrup? The mighty kitchen staple adds a touch of sweetness and warmth to every meal — breakfast and beyond. In the last couple years, maple syrup has become even more popular. In fact, GrubStreet reports that in the last 10 years maple syrup imports from Canada have doubled.

But the demand might not be able to be kept up with this year (and potentially beyond), thanks to climate change.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the heat wave in February has resulted in early sap flow, which may reduce the production of maple syrup in the country by as much as 75 percent this year. In Pennsylvania, for example, sap flow began a month early.

Warmer winters don’t just impact the flow of sap, which is 98 percent water and 2 percent sucrose — maple syrup producers have also found that higher temperatures result in a decrease in the amount of sap produced and the sugar content in sap, and a change in the direction of the sap flow (instead of going down to the taps, sap goes to the top of the tree instead).

(Image credit: Cambria Bold)

In the United States, 3.78 million gallons of syrup are produced from states like Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Pennsylvania, and Vermont — the latter is singlehandedly responsible for more than 47 percent of the nation’s maple syrup supply. High-quality sap forms in maple trees in very cold weather and starts to flow in the spring when temperatures increase.

“For sap to flow freely, the conditions have to be just right: That means below-freezing nights and warmer days,” writes Bon Appétit. “As the sap freezes, it expands (it’s 98 percent water), pushing itself up and out of the tree via the tap once it thaws. On average, sugaring season produces about 25 to 30 good days.”

With maple syrup production so heavily reliant on environmental temperature, it’s not surprising that sap output varies year to year based on the fluctuating climate. What is alarming, however, is the potential gravity of the syrup deficit we are facing this year. Dry pancakes, anyone?