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Canada's Maple Freeze

January 28, 1998|RUSS PARSONS

When you hear about winter weather disasters affecting agriculture, it's usually in places like Southern California, Florida or Mexico. Places that really don't have winters at all.

You want a real winter weather disaster? Go to Canada. And, yes, this month's record freeze has a food angle. Canada's maple syrup production may fall by as much as 30% this spring after the storm that swaddled the provinces of Quebec and eastern Ontario in sheets of ice this month.

Quebec produces l90% of Canada's maple syrup and is therefore the world leader (Canada accounts for roughly 75% of the world supply, with the U.S. providing the rest). Paul Sereda, assistant director of the horticulture section of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (the equivalent of our Department of Agriculture), was happy to report last week that things had warmed up enough so that most of the ice was gone. Temperatures were ranging from lows around 15 degrees to highs of around 25.

This year's freeze was so severe not just because of the temperatures--Canadians are used to that--but because above the extreme cold on the ground, there was a warm air mass. That created rain, which in turn froze on the ground.

"It's still very early, but there have been complete tree losses that we're not likely to recover at all," Sereda said. "There are other places where the damage is recoverable. The ice has knocked down the taps [which are put in place early in the fall and stay in over the winter] and the pipelines [which carry the sap from the trees to the production areas] are now buried under ice. Some of those pipelines will be recoverable, but the older ones we probably won't be able to dig out of ice in very good condition."

Sugar maples can take as long as 25 years before they begin producing the sap that is converted to maple syrup and 50 years before they reach their prime. After that, trees can live for more than 50 years. An average sugar maple yields 20 to 25 gallons of sap each year. It takes roughly 40 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of syrup.


Farmers' Market Pick of the Week: Juan Garcia from Fallbrook has very sweet pomelos and tangelos. He sells at the Burbank and Santa Monica markets on Saturdays. Source: Carolyn Olney of the Southland Farmers' Market Assn.

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