A sticky situation: erratic temperatures hurt maple syrup production

Erratic temperature swings over the past few months have put New Brunswick maple syrup producers on edge.

Mid-March to mid-April — with nights usually below 0 C and days above 0 C — is generally considered the season for maple syrup, but March this year was too cold and April has been too warm.

David Briggs, the owner of Briggs Maples in Riverview, said the weather has been a problem for his business.

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"You anticipate getting at least some runs by mid-March or towards the end of March, but things didn't favour that well because the temperatures didn't get above freezing much during the day," Briggs said.

It was much the same more than 200 kilometres away in Dumfries, where Nathan Scott, the owner of Dumfries Maples, found March a challenge.

"Most of March remained so cold that we really didn't have a whole lot of production through March," Scott said.

Warm weather at the end of February gave some producers a chance to get some sap early. One of them was Heather Fraser, who runs the City of Moncton's sugar camp near Turtle Creek.

"We were actually able to catch those early runs, even if they were small," Fraser said.

Can't stand the heat

But too much warm weather is also a problem.

"The last couple of days it's been a little too mild for great runs," Fraser said. "So we're hoping the temperature's going to drop down here the next little while."

It may not just be the temperatures that have hurt some producers, Briggs said.

January's ice storm did quite a number on trees.

"The trees experienced a lot of ice damage," Briggs said. "Maybe the base is still frozen. There's still a lot of snow cover in the woods.

"I seem [to be] hearing around the industry is those who didn't get affected by the ice storm seem to be doing a bit better."

Time running out

Time is running out for the maple syrup season. Scott said when the weather gets too warm, and the trees start to bud, the season's done.

"Once that starts, the quality, just the characteristics of the sap, changes and it's really no longer useful … to make syrup with that sap," said Scott.

"It takes on quite a different taste."

Fraser said if the weather pattern continues in the future it may be time to rethink the traditional mid-March to mid-April season.

"The old way is maybe not going to be the new way," she said.

According to statistics from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada in 2015, maple syrup products produced in New Brunswick were valued at more than $25 million, including  $17.6 million from exports. In 2011, provincial producers had 1,896,773 taps across 191 maple farms.