For decades, maple syrup was one of Virginia’s best-kept secrets. Now climate change may spell its end

For decades, maple syrup was one of Virginia’s best-kept secrets. Now climate change may spell its end
Many maple syrup producers in Virginia are seeing once-regular seasonal patterns become uneven or change entirely. (Source: Virginia Mercury)

For years, the chirping of the spring peeper frogs was one of Valerie Lowry’s signals that the maple sugar season was coming to an end. Twice the frogs would emerge, filling the Highland County air with their familiar call, and twice they would quiet. On their third appearance, Lowry knew, the sap would stop running, and “you quit making syrup.”

But this past winter, that long-running pattern changed.

“This year, we heard the peep-frogs barely one time, and then the trees shut off,” she said. “It’s just a very different sequence.”

Lowry, who with her husband Pat runs Back Creek Farms in Monterey, the county seat of Highland, is one of many maple syrup producers in Virginia seeing once-regular seasonal patterns become uneven or change entirely. Snow is no longer reliably present during tapping. Sudden warm days are more common, disrupting sap flow. And, most critically, the tapping season itself is slowly creeping backwards, from March a generation or so ago to January.

“Even 50 years ago to now, we’ve already back-pedaled two months,” said Missy Moyers-Jarrells of Laurel Fork Sapsuckers.

The Virginia Mercury is a new, nonpartisan, nonprofit news organization covering Virginia government and policy.