March 1, 2024 8:29 pm
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NH Researchers Study Alternative Syrups to Build Forest Climate Resiliency

Credit: iStock

Kathryn Carley

New England is well known for its maple syrup production but new research shows alternative tree syrups could also benefit both the economy and overall health of New Hampshire’s forests.

Beech and birch trees, which are in abundance across the state, contain sap with a much lower sugar concentration than maple, yet the trees’ novelty syrups can fetch four or five times the price of maple syrup.

David Moore, a long-time syrup producer and graduate student at the University of New Hampshire, said the number of alternative syrup producers is already increasing in response to consumer demand.

“This region is very ripe for some alternative syrup production just because all the expertise, the equipment, the infrastructure is here,” Moore outlined.

Birch syrup in particular is well established in Canada and Alaska, but there are only a handful of producers across New England. Moore and fellow researchers are studying not only the chemical composition and best processing techniques of alternative syrups but their potential market in the U.S.

Moore pointed out the syrup industry’s reliance on a monoculture of sugar maple trees increases its risk of damage from extreme weather events and invasive species; two growing problems related to climate change.

Moore argued a diverse sugarbush — or forest tapped for sap — would increase the forest’s resilience to changes in both the environment and economy.

“Maybe if you have a poor maple year maybe it won’t be a poor birch year as well,” Moore noted.

Scientists believe the maple syrup industry in most of New England is likely to drop by half by the end of this century due to changes in the climate, disrupting an industry which supports thousands of producers and provides vital income to local farmers and indigenous communities.

This story was written by Kathryn Carley, a producer at Public News Service, where this story first appeared.