Climate Witness: Burr Morse, USA
In the last 20 years we have had a number of bad seasons and most of those I would attribute to temperature that is a little too warm. Several of those years we only made a third to a half a crop of maple syrup.
A sugar farmer knows best
I think that we sugar farmers are the fussiest farmers in the world about the weather that we need.
We need the perfect weather. We can’t live with 31 degrees Fahrenheit at night. In the springtime, when we want sap to run, we need 25 degrees F, which is well down below freezing. Then we got to have in the 40s during the day, and anything warmer than that is too warm. We have got have a west wind. We have to have predictable weather patterns. So when things change around and the weather comes from the east or comes from the south, the sap is not going to run.
This year the bad season, which is going right up into Canada, is causing the price of maple syrup to go really high. This price increase has to do with the bad year and also that there is no longer a surplus in Canada, which used to keep the price artificially low.
Adapting to the changing climate…but for how long?
I can’t say that the state of Vermont is making less maple syrup. We are pretty much keeping our production up but we are changing the way we do it. We are adding vacuums into the woods now and that sort of counters the weather. So we are able to make the volume of syrup that we always did but we have to change our ways.
The way the vacuuming works is that the trees are all hooked up with networks of plastic tubing and we put a vacuum into the plastic tubing. Scientists have figured out that sap will only run out of the wound we make in the tree if the pressure inside is greater than the atmospheric pressure outside. So the vacuums create more pressure inside the trees and that tricks them into running.
I worry about future decline of maple trees in this part of North America where maple sugaring has been so important to our way of life for so long.
Harvesting Christmas trees in short sleeves
Ironically, in the last two years the biggest cause of our bad season was weather that was too cold. But I am not ready to pull the plug on this thinking that something is up with the climate just because it’s colder than it should be now, rather than warmer than it should be, because it is unpredictable weather.
It seems to me that the weather is more extreme. It seems as though we get high wind storms and sometimes torrential rain that I don’t remember as a kid. I think that is all part of climate change. I particularly notice the effects of windstorms because our tubing stays in the woods year round and every time there is a windstorm limbs come down and trees come down and knock our tubing down.
Two years ago we went out to cut Christmas trees on our farm. I was cutting them just before Christmas in my short sleeve shirt over many days. From reading old diaries and from talking to my grandparents I know that we used to get a lot more snow and colder weather around here.
Working on solutions
I am one of the sugar makers who are willing to talk about it. Many sugar makers are of the old school and they say there is no such thing as climate change everything is fine, don’t worry about it.
Though I am politically conservative I honestly feel like climate change is a threat, and that humans play into the cause of climate change and the emissions from the fuels we use are part of the cause. So I would like to see advancement on the development of alternative fuels. Plus we are going to run out of petroleum. It’s a proven thing so why wouldn’t the sensible thing be to work on the development of alternative fuels.
I have spoken to many groups and reporters and I have been on national television. I was on ABC news last year and certain public radio programmes. I feel like maple sugar makers are more qualified than anyone else to notice changes in climate because we need just the right weather for our industry to work. A sugar maker knows, because he needs the right weather and he works with the trees and when the limbs fall out of them too often, he suffers with too much repair work.
Scientific reviewReviewed by: Dr Steve McNulty; USDA-Forest Service Southern Research Station, Raleigh, NC, USA
This story is consistent with the literature. It is well documented that intensity of rain fall has increased by approximately 30% since 1900, and that average annual air temperature has risen in New England over the past 60 years (the age of the witness).
There is not evidence to support the claim of increased wind speed, but this is a local phenomena and highly variable. Given the complex conditions needed to generate sap flow, syrup productivity would be very sensitive to climate change.
- Report of Working Group I of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. “Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis Summary for Policymakers”. Figure SMP-4.
All articles are subject to scientific review by a member of the Climate Witness Science Advisory Panel.