New York maple farmers adjust to early sap season as winters warm
It’s maple syrup season in New York — sweet, sticky, and arriving much earlier than it was once expected.
Warming winters means the sap is flowing earlier from New York’s maple trees, changing the production schedule for maple syrup farmers across the state and raising concerns over the industry’s future.
At Schoolyard Sugarbush maple farm in Newfield, operations have been in full swing since January. A web of pipes crisscross 250 acres of woods, carrying sap from 15,000 trees into the operation’s sugarhouse. There, it's boiled and processed into syrup.
Owner Daniel Weed said their season has inched earlier as winters have begun to warm. Sap only runs under certain circumstances, he explained — below freezing nights followed by warm days are usually best. Those are the kind of temperatures this area used to experience in March, but now they’ve become common much earlier in the winter.
“When I was a child, the snowbanks were head high. There was no way the sap was going to run,” Weed said. “There's just been a total change of that trend.”
Those changes have raised some concerns over the maple syrup industry’s future. New York is the second-largest producer of maple syrup in the country, behind only Vermont, and more than 2,000 maple syrup farmers rely on the industry for their livelihood.
A new climate impacts assessment from the state, released earlier this month, found that the industry is particularly vulnerable to climate change. Tree health, sap flow, and the general make-up of New York’s forests may significantly shift if warming trends continue. That could lead to a severe decline in hard maple in this area in the coming decades.
But for farmers like Weed, the earlier maple season is just another challenge to navigate as the sap continues to flow. It adds to the long-standing challenges farmers in the industry have faced, from unpredictable weather to invasive species.
To Weed, the only solution is doing what he does best: tending to his grove of maple trees, caring for the earth, and working to pass down a healthy forest to his daughters.