Climate Impacts Maple Breakfast

Ben Hill

Over 100 community members, students, and state officials gathered in the Huddleston Ballroom on February 22nd to celebrate a maple syrup, an integral piece of New Hampshire’s identity. The pancake breakfast and discussion aimed to highlight the effects that climate change is having on the maple industry. The event was co-sponsored by the UNH Sustainability Institute, League of Conservation Voters, The Union of Concerned Scientists, National Health Services Corps, Mom’s Clean Air Force, Environment New Hampshire, and NH Sierra Club.

Speakers at the breakfast included Dr. Cameron Wake of the University of New Hampshire, Jeff Moore of Windswept Farm, Ray LaRoche of LaRoche Farm, Heather Fournier of Revision Energy, and Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.). The forum served as a platform to discuss the impacts climate change is already having on citizens and business is New Hampshire. Using maple syrup as an example, both LaRoche and Moore highlighted how temperature changes influence sap production, and how sap yields have declined over the years.

“From 2000, I was producing 75 gallons of sap a year,” LaRoche said. “With the environmental changes that we’ve seen over the years, I’ve gone to producing 15 gallons a year.”

Speaking at the pancake breakfast, U.S. Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.) said, "Our natural resources define us as a state and are critical to our economy, our environment, and our way of life in New Hampshire. We are already seeing the real impacts of climate change on our environment — including on our maple syrup and ski industries."

More broadly, climate change is already having a significant impact on agriculture in the region. Projections from climate models may vary quantitatively but suggest similar broad themes for the Northeast: longer growing seasons, shorter warmer winters, more extreme precipitation events, changes in soil moisture and drought, and intensified biological stressors [1]. In New Hampshire, models provide slightly different predictions for the southern and northern regions. Wake et al. published two reports in 2014, which described climate trends experienced in northern and southern NH over the past thirty years and model results for future trends. According to these reports, data indicates NH has and will continue to experience increased temperatures, length of growing season, and precipitation, a decrease in snow covered days, and an increase in extreme precipitation events [2].

The science translates practically into more challenges and considerations for New Hampshire growers. Many climate change effects will require adaptation on the behalf of growers. Management techniques such as cover cropping and reduced tillage can help to increase soil water retention during drought. Fruit growers may plant new orchards on north-facing slopes to avoid early leaf out during warmer winters. Additionally, universities and organizations (e.g. Cornell, USDA Climate Hub) are developing tools to help farmers and landowners make informed decisions as well as monitoring tools* to provide real-time information about pest and disease pressures, frost warning, and soil moisture.

Indirectly, climate change will also create or enhance existing concerns for New Hampshire farmers and landowners. Mild winters and warmer, wetter conditions create a hospitable environment for weeds and invasive plant species, insects, and plant pathogens. Common insects that overwinter in the Northeast, such as corn earworm and spotted-wing Drosophila have been found in higher abundances early in the season, a trend that is expected to increase as temperatures continue to rise [4]. However, translating broad climate-related impacts into specific on-farm tactics is a formidable task, and will continue to be the focus of many technical assistance organizations (e.g. NRCS, Cooperative Extension). For readers looking for more information on adaptation strategies and approaches for agriculture, refer to a publication** put together by the USDA Climate Hub.

As we continue to see the effects of climate change being realized on New Hampshire farms and in our communities, it’s important that we stay informed of the facts and recommendations from technical assistance providers and the scientific community. Robust and resilient farms, fisheries and food businesses are necessary to support a thriving food system in New Hampshire.

*Cornell University - Network of Environmental and Weather Applications -
**USDA Climate Hub -

[1] Janowiak, M., D. Dostie, M. Wilson, M. Kucera, R. Howard Skinner, J. Hat eld, D. Hollinger, and C. Swanston. 2016. Adaptation Resources for Agriculture: Responding to Climate Variability and Change in the Midwest and Northeast. Technical Bulletin 1944. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Agriculture.

[2] Wake C., Burakowski E., Wilkinson P., Hayhoe K., Stoner A., Keeley C., LaBranche J. (2014) Climate Change in Southern New Hampshire: Past, Present, and Future. Retrieved from Climate Solutions New England, University of New Hampshire Sustainability Institute.

[3] Wake C., Burakowski E., Wilkinson P., Hayhoe K., Stoner A., Keeley C., LaBranche J. (2014) Climate Change in Southern New Hampshire: Past, Present, and Future. Retrieved from Climate Solutions New England, University of New Hampshire Sustainability Institute.

[4] Tobin, D., M. Janowiak, D. Hollinger, R.H. Skinner, C. Swanston, R. Steele, R. Radhakrishna, A. Chatrchyan. 2015. Northeast Regional Climate Hub Assessment of Climate Change Vulnerability and Adaptation and Mitigation Strategies. In: T. Anderson, ed: United States Department of Agriculture. 65 p.