Waffling weather brings out the sap

Maple syrup producers are tapping their trees earlier than ever, thanks to a changing climate. And for many Canadian producers, that means more sap on tap.

Driving the news: The syrup sector is experiencing another early harvest. Sugar maples produce sap when temperatures go from freezing to a mild thaw. 

  • “We’re seeing the maples trying to run in January when they’re really not supposed to,” said a Québec maple farmer.
  • Québec, which accounts for 71% of all maple syrup production, had a record bounty last year, which also saw an early harvest.

Why it’s happening: In the old days, syrup producers would expect that to happen later in the winter season, but the warmer weather brought on by climate change is making them spring into action a bit sooner.

  • “Over the last 20 years or more we've seen the seasons start earlier and earlier,” said the head of the Ontario Maple Syrup Producers' Association.

Why it matters: With more northern trees starting to see sap-friendly temperatures and southern forests not getting much of a winter at all, climate change is going to have a big impact on the industry. In northern Québec, the outlook is bullish for sap derivatives, whereas climate change is expected to flatten the pancake topping industry south of the border.

  • maple syrup-focused agricultural research group thinks Québec has the potential for ten times as much sap as it’s harvesting now.
  • There are some syrup producers in southern states like Virginia and Kentucky, but warmer weather will likely see them tap out by the end of the century.

What’s next: Syrup makers in Québec are already planting new maples north of the St. Lawrence River, and some producers are renting government land to add tens of thousands of new taps. Even private equity wants a taste, with Bain Capital buying a major Québecois syrup bottler last year.