Paul Renaud ended a 40-year tech career in Ottawa, Ontario, five years ago and leaped.
“I moved to the country and started making maple syrup,” says Paul. “It’s tradition. I’m French Canadian. We’ve been making maple syrup for 400 years.”
Paul, born in Montreal and raised in Northern Quebec, has 150 maple trees on 100 acres in Lanark Highlands, Ontario.
This year’s harvest is going well.
“We had an early start because of the soft winter because of climate change. I was concerned we would have an early finish, but the weather looks encouraging,” says Paul.
Weather is everything to a maple syrup producer—sap flow is heavily weather dependent as temperature fluctuations create pressure within the tree to move the sap. Spring temperatures must fall below freezing at night and above freezing during the day for sap to flow.
Bitterness Takes Root
Since becoming a producer, Paul learned that his business is at risk of changing weather patterns.
“I had three wind events last year that took out trees. I was lightly hit. I know some people who lost half their sugar bush. There never used to be this many windstorms. There used to be one every three years,” he says.
The impact can be staggering.
“When the wind knocks down a maple tree, it takes 40 years to regrow. So the producer has lost their means of production,” says Paul. “It’s frustrating when you’ve got agricultural producers in serious pain. With the risk of climate change increasing windstorms, if we don’t pay attention to this, we could not have a maple syrup industry in Ontario.”
Paul feels left behind by his provincial government.
“I don’t understand why the Ontario government doesn’t care. They should care about agricultural production in Ontario.”
The producers Paul knows are worried too.
“Anybody whose livelihood depends on the environment is concerned about the environment. There are many examples of farmers adopting environmentally friendly practices because they care. Farmers do care.”
These events made Paul consider his impact on the world around him.
“I realized I was going through a lot of wood. I started to wonder what my carbon footprint was. When I worked it out, I thought, ‘whoa, that’s not good.’”
Wood is burned to boil down maple sap into syrup using an evaporator, which takes hours. Paul learned about evaporator efficiency and made improvements.
“Before, I was burning four cords of wood, and I could make the same amount of maple syrup with less than a cord. I thought, ‘wow, this is really cool.’ I realized that I could bring myself into balance and be carbon neutral with a few simple changes to improve my heat efficiency.”
Paul used the carbon analysis formula used in industry. He says his trees sequester carbon (they capture and store carbon dioxide), the gas responsible for our changing climate.
Paul wondered if he could get other producers to look at their impact.
He reached out to the Ontario Maple Syrup Producers’ Association, and they encouraged him to talk to other producers and evaluate their operations.
“I’ve been trying to get the provincial government’s attention to get some funding for more evaluations.”
Strong Trees, Sweet Syrup
Recently, Paul started talking to the federal government about his concerns, and he has some suggestions.
“We need to incentivize farmers to explore ways to reduce emissions through increased sequestration in ways that help the farm. If there’s no incentive, why would you bother? It’s not that they don’t care. They are just busy making a living right now.”
He believes that we need to come together to make this change.
“We need people working collectively to make a difference and not wait for governments. Governments need to get around to it, but they appear to be moving way too slowly,” says Paul. “I’m not waiting. I’m mobilizing maple syrup producers to get on board to make a difference collectively.”
Paul hopes the syrup industry can be a model for others in agriculture.
“It’s important that we generate public support for this because it’s a sustainable, very Canadian product. I can feel the difference I’m making helping other maple syrup providers. The maple syrup industry demonstrates a way forward.”