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Long-term effects of warmer climate in Maine may waiver maple syrup seasons

"It's very rare before March 10th that I ever thought, 'Oh we should've had some taps in.'"

NEWBURGH, Maine — Maine maple producers and experts in the field are seeing the effects of climate change on the sugaring season year by year. 

Len and Nancy Price have been running Nutkin Knoll Farm and Sugarworks for years, offering both the breakfast staple and Christmas trees when the season comes each season.

According to Len, mid-March is normally the sweet spot to start tapping the trees. This year, he expects to start within the next week. 

"It's very rare before March 10th that I ever thought, 'Oh we should've had some taps in,'" he said. "So I'm pretty close, but still I'm two to three weeks early."

Helping producers maneuver the season is UMaine extension professor Jason Lilley. He said by looking at the 2021 season, data shows extremely low sugar content due to a warm summer. 

"The trees were giving out sap that was very low in sugar, so that meant the producers had to boil for longer, and get a smaller quantity of syrup than normal," Lilley said. 

The outcome of maple syrup season rides on a multitude of factors, from temperature, insect infestations, or like Maine's droughty summer prior, and can oftentimes be hard to predict or pinpoint the cause and effect.

For this year, Lilley said things like a warmer summer can lead to less snow coverage insulating the tree's roots, which can lead to damage. 

"The frost will get down into the soil and sheer off those fine feeder roots of the trees that are taking up the minerals and nutrients and water," Lilley said. 

Len said over the years, he's seen signs of the wear and tear, but overall hasn't seen it affect his syrup too harshly. 

"Trees are pretty resilient, they can suffer through a summer of no rain once, or twice," Len said. "The maples I don't think are as vigorous, we don't get maple regeneration."

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