Video: Global warming saps Vt. family business

By Correspondent
msnbc.com
updated 3/12/2007 7:38:34 PM ET 2007-03-12T23:38:34

Morse and his son, Tom, are tapping the last of their 4,000 maple trees.

This land has been in Morse's family for seven generations. But never has there been more uncertainty about when to tap.

“Some years, like last year, we lost out,” he says. “We lost the first run, but I am not worried this year. We're almost fully tapped, and we're going to be ready for the first tap.”

Or so he hopes.

The problem? The weather.

When Morse was growing up, it was a sure thing — tapping began the first Tuesday in March. But now, warmer-than-usual winters are confusing the maples — and the farmers.

“If they tap too early, then the tap holes will dry out and they won't collect as much sap,” says Tim Perkins, a professor of plant biology at the University of Vermont. “If they tap too late, then obviously there have been some sap flows that have already occurred that they have missed.”

Which means lost revenue. So one of the oldest Vermont industries is bucking tradition and turning to technology for help.

To put it in perspective, the traditional way to tap a maple tree is to use a spout and a bucket and let nature take its course. Not anymore. Buckets have been replaced by tubes and vacuums, all thanks to Morse’s son, Tom, who has been urging his dad to change with the times.

But it isn't easy. “It takes some coercion to get him to go along with new ideas, for sure,” says Tom.

Burr Morse knows the stakes are high. His family depends on the sap. His brother, Elliott Morse, spins it into candy. And Burr Morse will do anything to keep the farm for his son.

“My son, he loves sugaring like I do, like my father did before me,” says Burr Morse.

Even if it means doing what he hates the most — making changes — he is willing to do anything to keep the sap flowing.

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