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Why Vermont produced 20% less maple syrup this year

 A photo of metal sap buckets on tree trunks.
Toby Talbot
Associated Press File
After low temperatures and a major winter storm and high snowpack, Vermont produced almost a quarter less maple syrup in 2023 compared to last year.

Vermont’s maple syrup production decreased by 20% this year following last season’s record-high.

TheUnited States Department of Agriculture announcedFriday that Vermont produced just over 2 million gallons of syrup, a significant decrease from what the state's 2,500+ sugar makers produced in 2022.

A variety of factors go into determining sap and syrup yield, including temperature, snowpack, drought and sugar content. This year, location played an even more important role.

More from Vermont Public: Vermont harvested more maple syrup in 2022 than any other year in the state's modern history

Allison Hope, the executive director for the Vermont Maple Sugar Makers’ Association, said temperatures remained too cold in areas around the state for the snowpack to melt enough so sap would flow.

“The pockets of cold climates throughout the state didn't really see a loss of snowpack around the base of the trees in the way that would have helped for that sap just to release,” she said.

Cold pockets occurred more frequently in northern Vermont, leaving these areas with less flowing sap.

Hope also mentioned the impacts of winter storm Elliott, which battered Vermont from Dec. 22 to Dec. 24 of 2022. The storm caused a large amount of tree damage to sugarbushes around the state, which is likely to impact sugar production for many years.

“Sugar makers are playing the long game when it comes to sugarbush health, and so downed maple trees that they were counting on tapping, it's not like they can regrow those over the course of a couple of years,” Hope said.

More from Vermont Public: Meet the urban maple sugarmakers in Burlington's Old North End

Still, amid the challenges of this year’s sugaring season, Hope said sugar content was high enough to make up for some of the losses.

Sugar content is how much sugar is naturally in the sap. When it's high, more syrup can be produced from the same amount of sap.

But Hope says these types of unpredictable weather patterns are going to become the norm.

“We're going to get used to the fact that it's never going to be just perfect,” she said.

She says technology and following best practices will help sugar makers continue to produce syrup in the coming years. This includes increasing education about which trees to tap, what tubes to use, and how to set up tubing most efficiently.

Vermont still remains the highest producer of maple syrup in the country, and Hope is confident the state can maintain its beloved tradition.

“It's going to be an interesting ride, “ she said. “An extra dose of hopefulness and optimism is going to be necessary.”

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