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'It's scary': Maple syrup season off to an historic early start

'Not only is the sap coming earlier than ever before, but the flows are much stronger than what they used to be,' says owner of popular maple syrup business

Shaws Maple Syrup has tapped into the sweet season earlier than ever before this spring.

On Feb. 17, Shaws opened the doors to its Oro-Medonte pancake house for the first time in 2024. By that time, they had already produced 150 gallons of syrup.

"Our first boil was Feb. 9," explained fifth-generation owner Tom Shaw. "It's two or three weeks earlier than what has normally been done."

Shaws had its earliest season ever last year, beating records that date back to 1904 by a full week. Now the record has been surpassed again by another full week.

"It's staggering," Shaw said. "The Tap into Maple programs don't even begin for another couple of weeks."

The early start means a prolonged maple syrup season, which is good for business. However, Shaw isn't celebrating the record-breaking start because he's concerned about the environment.

"There is no doubt that there is climate change," he said. "Not only is the sap coming earlier than ever before, but the flows are much stronger than what they used to be."

Shaw says his usual February mornings tapping into the 4,500 trees on his property have felt more like April this year.

"It's scary," he said. "Our production and the amount of syrup that we are making is as strong as it's ever been, that part of it is alright. But I don't want to celebrate April weather in February."

The warm weather is causing the maple syrup season to grow from four weeks to eight to 10 weeks in southern Ontario. However, south of the border, the industry could be in peril. 

"Producers who are in Ohio and further south might be in trouble in our lifetime," he said. "They aren't going to get the cold nights to set up the surge of sap. We need the cold to stop the sap, and then the warm days to create the strong flow of sap."

Luckily, the nighttime temperatures have remained cold enough in Oro-Medonte to keep Shaws running strong. They hope to produce 1,000 to 1,500 gallons of syrup this year.

"We are still getting cold enough winters and I would like to think that wouldn't change in our lifetime," Shaw said. "However, who knows what the next decade will bring."

To help combat climate change, Shaw says buying syrup locally can make a difference.

"By buying your syrup local, your sugar needs are kept to just supporting your community," Shaw said. "It keeps them from being shipped all over the world."

Buying maple syrup locally keeps local forests viable and in place, Shaw says.  

"Syrup can only come from 40-year-old trees," he explained. "We have trees out there that are 300 years old and have been sequestering carbon all that time which is good for the environment."

Since 1980, to reduce its carbon footprint, Shaws has been using reverse osmosis to make its maple syrup.

"Before, when you used to have to boil sap, it took a lot of wood and a lot of carbon to make maple syrup," Shaw explained. "Now with the machines we have, we are able to get that easy first water out of it with a lot less energy than we ever did before."

Despite the earlier-than-usual opening date, the pancake house has been busy every day, said Shaw.

"The warmth and change of the season gets people out," Shaw said. "It's a nice feeling to know that people are excited to come in. It makes us feel good about what we are doing."

The pancake house is open daily from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. until April 14.


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Tyler Evans

About the Author: Tyler Evans

Tyler Evans got his start in the news business when he was just 15-years-old and now serves as a video producer and reporter with OrilliaMatters
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