Maple syrup producers see early start to tapping season in Ontario

The Weather Network's Rachel Schoutsen chats with local farmers about the early tapping season start, and how it might not guarantee a lengthy season ahead.

Maple syrup producers are getting a head start on tapping their trees this season, all thanks to the uncharacteristically warm weather making an early appearance in parts of Ontario. The usual tapping window from mid-February to mid-March, when the days are above freezing and nights dip below zero, has been thrown off by the above-average temperatures. 

December, in particular, saw an absence of snowfall and persistent warmth in many parts of southern Ontario, attributed partly to the influence of the El Niño weather pattern, known for ushering milder conditions into Canada.

“We started way earlier than we normally would,” Richard Bering, part owner of White Meadows Farms in Pelham, Ont., tells The Weather Network. “We were actually drilling the holes at the end of January. So, like, three weeks earlier than what we would normally see.”

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While the early tapping would seem like good news, Richard says that won’t necessarily lead to a longer season.

“It all has to do with the weather,” he explains. “If suddenly we get a warm spell right at the beginning of March, which we have seen in the past, that can end our season really early.” 

What maple trees need are cold nights, below freezing, and warm sunny days around 5 degrees Celsius. 

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“Freezing nights cause the sap to flow back into these little fibres inside the tree,” explains Amanda Bering, another partner on the farm and wife of Richard. “It creates a negative pressure as it pulls the sap back in...and then when it warms up, the sap starts moving again, [and that] creates a positive pressure in the tree and it pushes it out to our tap holes.” 

Maple Syrup tapping - graphic from IR1344

“This is not the first time we have tapped in January,” adds Richard. “But this is definitely the first time we have gathered and seen this much warm weather in February. We usually don't see this much sap collection this early in the season.”

The tapping season might turn out just fine if the temperatures take a dip and stay below freezing overnight. If the weather doesn't cooperate, the trees will start budding, altering the sap's flavour, and signalling the end of the harvest.

“We really just have this window [during] the spring season that we get to work with, and we never really know how long it's going to be,” says Richard.