Drought may be over, but impacts remain for trees during maple syrup season

This maple sugaring season, growers may run into low sugar content after last year’s drought.

By: Tim Studebaker

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WLNE) – It’s maple sugaring season in southern New England, but it may not be the best year for maple syrup crops.  Kim Calcagno with the Audubon Society of Rhode Island has been teaching the public about maple sugaring for years.

Calcagno says, “You can’t tap a tree that’s really, you know, not doing well or stressed out.”

Last year’s drought caused a high amount of stress on trees in our area, including the maple trees that produce the breakfast staple. And, it may be a while before the trees fully recover.

Calcagno says, “The tree may actually see the signs of stress through the coming growing season, and depending how bad a stress is, sometimes a tree could be affected for years.”

A rainy fall and snowy winter ended the drought, but the damage was already done.

Calcagno says, “If the tree is struggling to get enough water, the movement of sugar and minerals and nutrients up and down the tree is going to be affected.”

Calcagno says sap will still flow, but the sugar content may be low. That means lower quality syrup, and the quality will only decrease as the season goes on, which may force growers to end their season early.

Calcagno says, “It’s going to take not 30 or 40 gallons of sap to make a gallon of syrup, but maybe 80 gallons or 100 gallons.  There comes a point they have to make that decision about what’s worth it.”

Others may be forced to skip harvesting season altogether and let their trees recover for the year.

Calcagno says, “You can’t just go in and ravenously take all the sap from the tree.  Just as we give blood, we don’t give all our blood.  If you take too much, you damage the tree.”

The Audubon Society of Rhode Island does have a maple sugaring public education program, but that program is currently on hold because of the pandemic.

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