Early spring plays havoc with syrup producers

While the early spring is a boon for anglers and turkey hunters, it was a big negative for Ohio’s 900 or so maple syrup producers.

“Everybody is down by a third,” said Paul Mechling, DVM, of Ashtabula County.

Mechling and a partner oversee about 2,200 maple trees that produce about 40,000 gallons of sap in a good year.

Later onset of cold, snowy weather along with an earlier onset of mild spring weather meant less maple sap flowing from those trees.

Ohio ranks fourth or fifth (depending on the year) in the nation in maple syrup production. But climate change is impacting that distinction, Mechling said.

He noted maple syrup producers in his neck of the woods all believe in and talk about the role changing weather patterns have played in their seasonal efforts. This year, Ashtabula County had only a quarter inch of snow the whole month of March.

“The season only lasted three weeks this year,” Mechling said.

In addition, the early warm “snap” influenced the quality of barrels of maple sap that had not yet been boiled into syrup, forcing Mechling to destroy 2,000 gallons.

“We are pretty picky about the quality (of our sap),” he said.

He poured the valuable liquid onto the forest floor. He estimated that sap would have produced 30 gallons of syrup worth about $1,500 retail.

Last year, his woodlot produced 720 gallons of syrup. This year, that number is down to 480 gallons, he said.

Boiling maple sap into a savory sweet syrup was first practiced by Native Americans who taught that skill to early European settlers, according to the Ohio Maple Producers Association.

The practice was politicized during the Civil War with abolitionists in the North promoting its use over cane sugar cultivated by slaves in the South.

As the weather continues to warm overall, Mechling foresees a day (possibly as soon as 2050) when Ohio will no longer be a source of maple products.

“We might have to go to Canada for our syrup when that happens,” he said.

Categories: Ohio – Jane Beathard

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