April 6, 2014

Maple sugaring season is underway


Fortunately, at the time of this writing, the weather forecast looks near-perfect. It would appear that by the time this column goes to print, the sugaring season will have begun in earnest. And timing will not affect the quality.

March 2012 was the warmest on record for all the lower 48 states, and the government has been keeping records since 1895. Daytime high temperatures ranged from the high 60s through the low 80s for weeks, shattering previous records on a nearly daily basis. Nighttime low temperatures remained where producers would’ve liked daytime highs to have been.

And therein lies the conundrum. The perception is that the region now receives considerably more warm weather during the tapping season, perhaps too much. There’s a feeling that sap flows may not be as heavy in late winter and early spring as they once were, that they are less consistent, that spring comes earlier and that winters are less severe.

During the past decade, scientists have been looking at changes in the onset and duration of the maple season. A study conducted by researchers at Proctor Maple Research Center in Vermont confirmed that the traditional short season of daily freeze and thaw cycles has gotten about three days, or eight to 10 percent, shorter than it was in the 1940s. The Vermont sugaring season now begins about eight days earlier and ends about 11 days earlier than it did 40 years ago.

A Cornell study looked at the relationship between sap flow and temperature at thousands of locations from North Carolina to Quebec to Minnesota. Those researchers also determined that peak starting dates in the Northeast are now about a week earlier than in 1970. By scaling down global climate computer models to regional scales to project daily temperatures into the year 2100, the study concluded that in northern regions the overall number of flow days probably won’t change much. The season, however, will continue to shift, becoming earlier over time.

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