Maple syrup production in Vermont was down 21 percent this season.

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Last week, the USDA released a bit of maple syrup news that the industry had known was coming for months. Production in Vermont-America's top maple syrup state, typically producing more than half of the country's output-was down 21 percent from 2020 to 1.54 million gallons. That may sound like plenty to cover your pancakes, but it's the lowest annual yield in Vermont since 2015-and this despite producers increasing the total number of taps from 2020 by 4 percent to 5.9 million. (By comparison, 2015 had over a million fewer taps.)

The frustrating combo of more taps but far less yield was also tied to a shorter average production season: just 28 days compared to 38 days the year before. "Mother Nature was the story in 2021," Vermont's Ag Secretary Anson Tebbetts said in the announcement. "Vermont maple producers were faced with wild weather changes, ups and downs, starts and stops. But as always Vermont producers rode the waves and produced another national leading high quality crop."

Maple syrup on ice
Credit: François Angers/Getty Images

Those producers certainly weren't shocked by the USDA's findings. Back in April, Vermont's Burlington Free Press was already reporting that this year's sugaring season "was one of the worst in years, even as maple syrup demand grew," according to their headline, with most producers seeing crops at about 40 to 70 percent of average levels thanks to 70 degree temperatures that were warmer than producers want. Compounding that issue, this year's sap also had abnormally low sugar content

"For some people I have heard it was really the shortest season they've seen in quite some time," Allison Hope, executive director of the Vermont Maple Sugar Makers' Association, told the paper. "I have not heard anyone tell me they had an average or better-than-average year. This year was not a good year for sugar makers."

But will it all add up to a maple syrup shortage? Reached via email, Hope offered me a definitive answer. "To be clear, we are not at risk of a maple syrup shortage. The spring season was not a good one for Vermont maple producers, but we're coming off of a couple of good seasons prior to that," she said. She then referred me to Vermont's maple syrup grading system. "There may not be a lot of golden graded syrup out there-the syrup made this season seems to be amber and darker-but we have syrup."