GRANT: Jason Blocher’s livelihood each year largely depends on the weather in February and March. He’s the third generation in his family to run Milroy Maple Farms in Somerset County, on Pennsylvania’s southern border, just a few miles from Maryland.
BLOCHER: You can’t outguess Mother Nature, and she controls everything in this business.
GRANT: It takes warm days and cold nights to get sap flowing through a sugar maple.
GRANT: They start drilling tap holes in the trees when daytime temperatures get in the 40s, and nights are still below freezing. When Blocher was a kid, they would tap in late February and early March. But he says that’s changed in the past ten years. Now, they usually tap earlier as much as month earlier. And the timing is more erratic.
Like most producers, Blocher remembers the winter of 2012 there was a thick layer of snow in his maple forest. And then, right as syruping was starting, temperatures shot up into the 80s it was the warmest March on record.
BLOCHER: So we went from fighting our way through three or four feet of snow, and anticipation of a very good season, because of that heavy snow pack, to one of our poorest seasons we have on record because we had such a drastic change in the weather from cold, deep snow to too warm and in a matter of two weeks to three weeks, it ruined our season.
GRANT: Milroy Farms wasn’t alone. Syrup production around the northeast U.S. was down 40 percent in 2012.
Erratic years like that aren’t a surprise to Dave Cleaves. He’s the climate change advisor at the U.S. Forest Service, which means he’s often the bearer of bad news.
CLEAVES: God, in this job I’m in, people hate to see me coming. They run like hell.
GRANT: About fifteen years ago, the Forest Service published what’s called the Climate Change Tree Atlas. And what it found didn’t look good for sugar maples in the Northeast.
CLEAVES: We will see it gradually disappear. Or become less prominent.