An unseasonably warm winter decreased the annual sap harvest by a third at Funks Grove Maple Sirup near Shirley, Illinois.
The co-operator of the fabled Route 66 business also said climate change may mean a permanent change in when maple sap is harvested at the nearly 200-year-old farm.
I recently saw a report a warmer-than-usual winter led much less maple sap collected at the Baskett Wildlife Research and Education Center near Ashland, Missouri. I wondered whether Funks Grove Maple Sirup was seeing the same problem; I fired off an email asking that to the business.
Debby Funk, co-operator at Funks Grove, affirmed in a reply the farm’s maple-sap production had fallen, too.
Fortunately we tapped early this year, in January instead of waiting until February as we would normally do. How people can deny climate change as a real problem is beyond me. I just heard that this February was the warmest on record.
During a follow-up phone call, Funk said the only sap harvest that was worse was about 10 years ago, less than half of what was expected. And it was the same conditions as this year — unseasonably warm winter weather.
Taking note of this year’s winter conditions, Funks Grove anticipated the annual sap rise in the trees would occur earlier. They tapped their maple trees weeks early.
“If we hadn’t done that, we’d be in a lot worse shape,” she said.
Funk said drought makes little effect on sap harvests. It’s always warmer winters that do.
And it takes a lot of sap to make Funks Grove maple sirup — it’s about a 40-to-1 ratio.
As for the spelling of “sirup” instead of “syrup,” Funks Grove uses the former because of a 1920s definition of the words in a Webster’s dictionary. “Syrup” meant adding sugar to juice; “sirup” meant boiling sap for sugar. The “i” indicated it was a pure product, which is what the Funks desired in their marketing.
Funks Grove typically sells out of that season’s maple sirup in August or September. Because of the smaller harvest, it wouldn’t be wise to procrastinate beyond mid-summer.
Funks Grove Maple Sirup also implemented a modest price increase — its first in seven years. Funk said they were thinking of a price hike last fall, and the smaller sap harvest cemented that decision.
The Funk family has run its maple-sirup operation commercially since 1891 and annually tapped their trees to make their own sugar since 1824. So it seems they know the ebb and flow of seasons as well as anyone.
To that end, Funk takes seriously the potential effects of climate change, also known as global warming.
“Over time, it seems like weather has become more unpredictable,” she said. “We could rely on mid-February to mid-March, about four to six weeks, for the harvest. But in the last several years, we don’t know what to expect. We’re now thinking we may have to start earlier. January may be our new standard for tapping the trees.”
(Image at Funks Grove Maple Sirup near Shirley, Illinois, by Storm Crypt via Flickr)