The vast majority of our gooey-sweet maple sugar comes from the Northeast – New York, Vermont and (especially) Quebec.
But with climate change set to impact maple syrup production in its traditional home range, new players in the West are looking to tap into the market, bringing their own syrups – with their own spins – to the table.
“Most people have never tasted it or even heard of it. Even in the northwest, it’s a really new experience,” Eliza Nelson, founder of the Oregon Maple Project, told Modern Farmer of the West Coast offerings.
A tricky problem: The sappy heart of maple syrup production is found in the frigid climates of eastern Canada, where the Producteurs acericoles du Québec (also known as the “maple syrup cartel”) represents more than 70 % of the world supply of savory pancakes.
Maple syrup production in the United States accounts for a smaller share, coming mainly from Vermont and a group of other northeastern states.
But the region is feeling the effects of climate change, an impact that is expected to increase over the coming decades.
As the USDA explains, sap flow is highly weather dependent.
“Among maple syrup producers, it is well known that spring temperatures must drop below freezing (usually at night) and rise above freezing (usually during the day), for the sap to flow,” wrote Kristen Giesting of the USDA Northern Forests Climate Hub. .
Warmer springs will throw maple trees out of order, resulting in lower sap flow and therefore less syrup. Efforts like the USDA’s Acer Access and Development Program hope to strengthen and grow the industry, and from Montanna to New Mexico, aspiring tappers are answering the call.
Climate change is having an impact on the yield of the main maple syrup producing regions of Quebec, New England and New York.
A new flavor: As you might expect, efforts to move maple syrup production to new regions are shifting… slowly.
The process for tapping maple trees is the same, Modern Farmer reported, but growers in the northwest have a longer window to collect the sap. There is a catch, however: they have to move quickly when the frost days they need arrive.
The season is longer, but the ideal conditions are more scattered.
“This year we made eight gallons of syrup,” Nelson told Modern Farmer with a laugh – the French-Canadian cartel isn’t really under threat yet.
But states working in the Acer program are already seeing some success, with maple syrup production in January and February, Axios reports.
“It’s an amber-like syrup,” Rolston St. Hilaire, a professor at New Mexico State University, told Axios. “I almost can’t tell it apart from the sugar maple syrup I buy at the store, so I’m sure it can be done here.
The northeast depends on the abundant and aptly named sugar maple for maple syrup production, but western upstarts look to different types of trees, including the bigleaf maples of the Oregon and Norway maples operated by Montana Maple Works.
That means maple syrup with unique flavor profiles depending on the tree and region it comes from.
“It has more robustness; it would be closer to a very dark amber maple syrup. It tastes really nice,” Nelson told Modern Farmer of his Oregon syrup.
Although currently just a drop in the bucket at the store, western maple syrup production may play an increasingly important role as climate change continues. to impact the frozen forests of the northeast, helping to fill the gaps when taps are insufficient, St. Hilaire told Axios.
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