Maple syrup producers keeping a close eye on the extreme drought, potential impacts

As trees go dormant weeks ahead of schedule because of the drought, maple syrup producers consider sacrificing next spring’s crop to keep their trees alive, if necessary.

By: Tim Studebaker

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KINGSTON, R.I. (WLNE) – The extreme drought in southern New England is already causing concern for maple syrup producers, months before their harvesting season begins.

Kim Calcagno with the Audubon Society of Rhode Island has been teaching the public about maple sugaring for years.

Calcagno says, “The tree has been producing, throughout the summer, food for itself in the form of different sugars.  And, they are sending that down into the roots to be stored.”

She says in the late winter, that sugar will begin to make its way back up from the roots, and that’s when farmers can tap into it to begin producing maple syrup.  But right now, the drought is causing many of those trees to go dormant, weeks ahead of schedule.

Calcagno says, “Any plant that’s been as stressed out for a whole season, you can imagine, is probably not going to be the greatest producer.”

Calcagno says if the drought continues or gets worse, syrup producers may want to consider giving their maple trees a break next spring by not even tapping them.  That option is very much on the table at Kingston Syrup.

Norm Windus is a hobbyist syrup producer at Kingston Syrup.  Windus says, “The fact that we’ve had the drought for so long a period of time to this extremity, I’m looking at the trees, and I’m giving serious thought to not tapping.”

Windus says if we get enough rain or snow in the coming months, that may save the season.  But, he expects a real impact on farmers that tap trees for a living.

Windus says, “The sugar content will not be as much in the sap.  Consequently, they’ll have to boil longer.  It will cost them more in either oil or wood to boil that off.  So, it will make an impact financially on them.”

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