Vermont Maple Syrup Hard Hit by Climate Change

ByABC News
March 24, 2007, 12:48 PM

March 24, 2007 — -- In a gathering evening at the edge of the Green Mountains, steam rising from the Branon family farm's sugar house signals that it's syrup season again.

Inside the sugar house, Tim Branon, the eldest brother of an extended family that has made syrup for five generations, presides over the boiling process. It is now done largely in a gleaming stainless steel extractor made in nearby Rutland. It boils the sap, removing moisture and concentrating the maple sugar.

Branon, a man of few words but vast knowledge about the process he learned as a child, only opens the tap when it reaches the exact density of syrup.

This year, the Branon family will produce about 14,000 gallons of syrup. Tom Branon, Tim's brother, is in charge of the farm.

"You know," Tom said, "we really enjoy making the maple syrup."

Tom's wife, Cecile, an energetic woman with a constant smile, thinks about her four children, including Evan, this year's Vermont Maple King. She also thinks about the sense of community that develops when the sap is running.

"This business right here revolves around family," she said. "Friends, you know, people who stop in and feel that they're part of it."

But this year, there is a growing realization that global warming -- if that's what it is -- is beginning to take a toll on Vermont's signature product, and the farmers and their families who produce it.

Tom and Cecile spend almost every day tramping through the snow-covered hills on their farm, checking the system of vacuum lines snaking around their 50,000 trees. When the trees are tapped, the lines capture the sap and connect with thicker hoses that carry it to the sugar house.

"It's totally changed," said Tom. "In the '50s, '60s and even '70s we tapped by hand and used buckets, gathering by hand and using horse-drawn sleighs with wood fired evaporators."

But there have been bigger changes -- in the climate. This year, many farmers in Vermont are ending the syrup season in early March, a time when it used to begin.