Maple syrup: This season's prospects

Our unusually mild winter has left many wondering just how much sap will run from the sugar maple trees this season. Will we be relegated to purchasing 100% Canadian maple syrup when the local supply inevitably runs out? Fortunately, there is still a possibility of a strong syrup season, according to U of M extension educator David Wilsey. "Biologically, the trees have received their signals" to shut down, he says, pointing out that freezing weather is freezing weather even if it is not as cold as we're used to. A mild winter doesn't necessarily affect sap production as long as the tree hardens off in fall and goes dormant in the winter. That's not the only factor, however.

What could affect sap production is the amount of days that spike above freezing along with nights that are below freezing, which creates the necessary conditions for the flow of sap. "That freeze-stop cycle creates a pressure pump which causes the flow of sap," Wilsey says. For optimal maple syrup production, we need as many days like that as we can get before the tree starts budding, which causes the sap to lose its sweetness as the trees begin to use sugar for their leaf growth process.

"If we get a cool spring with a fair bit of moisture, we could conceivably have a fairly normal maple sap run," Wilsey adds, though he points out that the sustained drought we've had may lead to less sugar production.

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