Ontario maple syrup producers could face low yields in 2018 due to invasive insect

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Maple syrup producers could face low yields for 2018 season due to invasive insect
The maple syrup season is underway in Ontario -- but the presence of a tiny tent caterpillar may have an impact on how much of the sugary treat is harvested.    – Mar 5, 2018

An infestation of the tiny tent caterpillar may reduce the amount of maple syrup harvested in Ontario this year, producers say.

Terry Gervais, the owner of Trillium Ridge Sugarworks in Shannonville, Ont., says his maple syrup production might lag last year’s output by as much as 30 per cent, and it’s all because of the worst infestation of tent caterpillars he’s seen since entering the sugar bush business in 1979.

“There were billions of caterpillars all through the sugar bush and crawling all over the buildings,” Gervais says.

The bugs eat the leaves at the top of maple trees. The leaves help produce the sugar in the trees, so fewer leaves mean less sugar. That, in turn, means more sap has to run to make maple syrup.

“I’m thinking its probably going to be 20 to 30 percent less than we did last year,” Gervais says.

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According to Ray Bonenberg, chair of the Ontario Maple Syrup Producers Association, the tent caterpillar epidemic is extensive.

“The past two years have been fairly widespread in northern Vermont, northern New York, southern Quebec and southern Ontario,” Bonenberg says.

Tent caterpillars are naturally found in the environment, but infestations run in cycles. The caterpillars don’t kill the trees, but some years there are more of them than others.

“They go in anywhere from eight- to 12-year cycles where you get an infestation, so more of an epidemic,” Bonenberg says.

Due to the amount of damage the tent caterpillars at Trillium Ridge, Gervais decided to tap some of the trees only once, as opposed to two or three times. The idea is to allow the tree to recuperate from the damage.

While that means less production, Gervais says there’s at least one thing that won’t be affected by the caterpillars: the taste.

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