I thought the worst thing that could happen to my most beloved breakfast condiment was the 2012 maple syrup heist, but I was wrong. It turns out that climate change is trying to ruin maple syrup along with chocolate, bananas and many other beloved foods.
Photo courtesy of Shutterstock
Warm and irregular weather in the heart of sugar maple country is destroying the flavor of maple syrup, and it’s cutting down on yields—two years ago, production dropped dramatically due to a warmer year, and this year, farmers are resorting to using vacuum tubing to suck sap out of the trees in order to access every last drop.
When we think of maple syrup, we usually picture farmers stomping out in the snowy woods, checking buckets that slowly fill from taps inserted into the trunks of sugar maples to access their delightful sap. After extensive boiling down—43 gallons of sap go into every gallon of syrup—the resulting product is a thick, rich, sweet, wonderful condiment, baking ingredient, and, of course, doughnut topping.
Maple syrup is graded on quality, and policy wars have been fought out over what can be labeled “maple syrup” as food producers try to sneak in adulterated products or “maple syrup flavored” sweeteners made with corn syrup and other cheap fillers while the fine nuances of maple syrup labeling are sussed out. Maple syrup fans, though, know the true flavor of maple syrup, and we’re willing to pay a lot for it, too.
While reports warned that the syrup industry would be in trouble, no one really expected it to happen this fast. A projection of events that might occur 20 or 30 years in the future is suddenly a reality now, leaving maple syrup farmers flailing to keep production up. The problem in this and recent years has been a fall in sap production, leading to a drop in syrup production and huge losses for the industry, with the same amount of labor to maintain the trees and work through the extremely short and fragile sugaring season.
The vacuum tubing is a short-term solution to a long-term problem. To increase production, farmers are connecting lengths of tubing to the trees to suck syrup out, increasing individual yields. Their tubing is all connected and leads to a central collection site, which also reduces the amount of work required during sugaring season, allowing farmers to focus on the work in the sugaring shacks, with, yes, an app to help them track their lines remotely with the use of sensors.
Vacuum tubing represents the passage of a traditional way of life, even as it increases efficiency and helps cut prices on syrup production. But this technology also signals something more alarming: it, like many other recent developments in agricultural technology, was developed specifically in response to climate change. When it’s no longer an effective solution to the problem, what comes next, not just for maple syrup but for staple food crops we rely on to survive?
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Naomi Larsson
For centuries, the delicate silver dove has been a symbol of love and fidelity.
Biodiversity and Habitat Loss<p>Their near extinction is a symbol of the <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/global-biodiversity-outlook-targets-extinction-summit-new-york-pledge/a-54932895" target="_blank">biodiversity crisis</a> in the UK, largely driven by habitat destruction. Britain is now one of the countries with the most <a href="https://www.wwf.org.uk/future-of-UK-nature#:~:text=The%20UK%20is%20one%20of,than%20half%20are%20in%20decline" target="_blank">depleted nature</a> in the world according to the World Wildlife Fund. Half its plant and animal species are in decline and more than <a href="https://www.rspb.org.uk/about-the-rspb/about-us/media-centre/press-releases/let-nature-sing-wales/#:~:text=a%20natural%20tragedy.-,Over%2040%20million%20birds%20have%20vanished%20from%20UK%20skies%20in,unaware%20of%20the%20impending%20danger" target="_blank">40 million birds</a> have vanished in just half a century.</p><p>"[Turtle doves] are the canary in the [coal] mine because there are all these other species before it and after it," said Tree. "It's an umbrella for all the other species that are heading that way."</p><p>Turtle doves migrate south through Europe to sub-Saharan Africa between July and September, ending up in dry woodland and farmland areas of countries like Mali and Senegal for winter. </p><p>Droughts in West Africa and the Sahel region are believed to have contributed to the fall in turtle dove species recorded in northern Europe, with low rainfall reducing supplies of the seeds and insects the birds rely on for energy for the long journey home.</p>
Conservation and Farming<p><a href="https://www.operationturtledove.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Operation Turtle Dove,</a> a partnership project of charities including the Essex Wildlife trust, works with landowners and farmers to actively build turtle dove habitat.</p><p>Outten works with <a href="https://www.ebws.org.uk/birdsites/blue-house-farm-ewt-north-fambridge" target="_blank">Blue House Farm</a>, a 660-acre nature reserve in the UK county of Essex, where they have replicated weedy fallow plots. </p><p>"We work on it every year to make sure it's in the condition it needs to be with plants such as clovers and black medic," Outten said. "These plants are native to the landscape and produce the seed the birds feed on." </p><p>The birds eat a wide range of seeds from various plants that would have been abundant 50 or 100 years ago, added Guy Anderson, program manager for species recovery with The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB). </p><p>"But it's simply true that with the gradual process of <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/farming-without-pesticides-how-can-we-make-agriculture-greener/a-52216796" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">intensifying our agricultural production</a>, the availability of those seeds has dropped and dropped," said Anderson.</p><p>Part of the project includes supplementary feeding — providing sources of food in the form of seed or grain. Under the Countryside Stewardship Scheme in England, farmers can receive financial support to create a turtle dove habitat. </p><p>Though they haven't recorded an increase in doves across the sites in the four years of working on the project, Outten said they are seeing improvements in how landowners and farmers manage habitat for the birds. </p>
A Turtle Dove Haven<p>The 3,500-acre Knepp Estate in West Sussex is another project taking a different approach and one of the few places where turtle dove numbers are increasing.</p><p>Isabella Tree and her husband Charlie Burrell converted their intensively farmed land into a rewilding project almost 20 years ago. They have let the land return to nature.</p><p>Just one year after they'd finished <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/uks-most-talented-architects-are-not-human/a-35952128" target="_blank">rewilding</a> the southern part of their property, they heard turtle doves for the first time. It's now a breeding hotspot for the birds with an estimated 19 pairs. Knepp is also home to <a href="https://www.rewildingbritain.org.uk/rewilding/rewilding-projects/knepp-estate" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">2% of the UK's population</a> of nightingales. </p><p>Tree is critical of supplementary feeding schemes that, in her view, are short term. She questions the chances of turtle doves getting to feed on scattered seeds before other mammals eat them first.</p>
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