Guest Essay by Kip Hansen
In its continuing advocacy of calamitous climate change stories, the New York Times runs a piece titled: “Syrup Is as Canadian as a Maple Leaf. That Could Change With the Climate” authored by Kendra “Gloom is My Beat” Pierre-Louis.**
She claims “In fact, climate change is already making things more volatile for syrup producers. In 2012, maple production fell by 54 percent in Ontario and by 12.5 percent in Canada over all, according to data from the Canadian government, because of an unusually warm spring.”
Golly, “fell by 54%”. That’s got to be serious — oh, wait a minute, that was in 2012 — in Ontario. Oh, and Ontario only produces a small percentage, less than 5%, of Canada’s overall annual syrup output and less than 1% of Canada’s export syrup.
The Times claims “Warm weather can hurt syrup production because the process depends on specific temperature conditions: daytime highs above freezing with nighttime lows below freezing. This specific variation — which tends to happen as winter turns to spring…”. That is almost true but syrup production does not depend on cold or warm spring weather, thus ‘warm weather’ is not a factor. It is the difference between sub-zero (°C) nighttime temperatures combined with warm days that produce the best maple tapping time. The hint is given to us when we see that Ms. Pierre-Louis has been forced to cherry-pick both the year 2012 and the Canadian province (Ontario) to use as examples.
Let’s look at the real data offered by the Canadian Government:
This chart spans the year 2012 and is very informative showing us how the Times article has spoofed the data to make it look as if Canadian Maple Syrup production will be or has been harmed by climate change.
First, let’s look closely at Ontario as a syrup producer: In 2012, Ontario produced only 3.2% of Canada’s maple syrup and in 2013 (an up year) it was 4.4%.
Agriculture and Agri-food Canada makes these statements about the year 2012: “In 2011, there were more than 10,000 maple farms in Canada, with over 44 million taps, for an average of approximately 4,000 taps per farm. The vast majority of these farms are located in Quebec, which accounted for 92% of the country’s total maple production in 2012. New Brunswick and Ontario also had a strong presence relative to the other provinces. The Canadian maple industry saw a 10% decline in the value of maple products from 2011 to 2012, from $339 million to $305 million.” and “Canada is also the world’s largest exporter of maple products, with exports valued at $278 million in 2013. Quebec accounted for 95.3% of Canadian maple product exports and New Brunswick for 3.7%, with the remaining maple-producing provinces accounting for only 1% of total exports.”
[All Canadian governmental information from reports available here.]
Without need to draw graphs of the figures provided by the Canadian government, we see that Ontario’s syrup production shows a decided up-down-up character, alternating good years with bad years 2008-2013. But, overall, starting in 2008 and ending in 2013, Canadian Maple syrup production doubled.
Doubling hardly seems like a sign of imminent demise.
Now, I don’t want to be accused (or convicted) of cherry-picking. So how have things fared since that little slice in time chosen by the Times to try to scare the naïve maple- syrup-on-our-pancakes crowd?
Bluntly put, Canadian syrup production is booming — up another 20% since 2013. Ontario has an up year in 2017, but it is a small slice of the pie, around 3%
The Canadian Government tells us: “For the second year in a row, Canadian maple syrup production continued to increase. In 2017, Canada recorded the highest numbers in maple syrup production and value since the data started being collected in 1924. After falling for two consecutive years (2014 and 2015), maple syrup production reached 12.5 million gallons in 2017 (Table 1.3.), up 41% from 2015 and 3% from 2016. In 2017, the value of maple syrup amounted to $494 million (Table 1.5.), a 38% and 2% increase from 2015 and 2016, respectively.”
In my mid-Hudson Valley (New York) rural area, maple syrup is still practiced as a family art each spring — with wood-fired sugar houses running day and night to evaporate off the water until the collected maple sap becomes maple syrup. It is my experience that there are good years and bad years, like any agricultural effort that depends on weather for its success.
Ottowa Ottawa, the capital of Ontario Canada, has monthly normal temperatures (1971-2000) as shown. Maple sap runs during the time circled in red — when nighttime temps are sub-zero and daytime temps are above zero.
As for Canada’s national syrup production, since we’ve just lived through “The 5 Hottest Years on Record” ?:
In that same time period, the five “hottest years”, Canada’s syrup industry has had four of the most productive years ever ! (2009 and 2015 were tied for fifth — I could have fudged it and called it five most productive years….).
Bottom Line: Readers may rest assured that North America’s temperate forests with their millions upon millions of maple trees — three species of which produce the best sap — are not going to quit doing what they have done for millennia. Where the trees are, there will be syrup makers and pancakes to put it on.
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** Kendra “Gloom is My Beat” Pierre-Louis has chosen this moniker for herself, see the linked twit page.
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Author’s Comment Policy:
Yes, I have made maple syrup from the sap of the three giant maples that grace our yard in front of our house with my kids when they were small. One son makes syrup every spring with a group of his neighbors. Syrup is part of the ebb and flow of the seasons here in the northeastern United States.
No, I am not an expert on maple syrup but I have a sharp eye for cherry-picked and omitted data and a nose for BS.
I intentionally do not draw a “trend line’ on the annual syrup production graph — trend lines are simply another way of adding artificial data to a data set. The raw data is what it is — it is best left to speak for itself.
I am happy to answer questions where I can and to read your comments and experiences with the exquisite art of making and enjoying maple syrup.
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