February 13, 2012
Syrup producers hope good year on tap
Maple trees already being tapped as mild winter brings early start
Joe McIntyre/staff photographer
Syrup King owner Kevin King of Cincinnatus uses a battery powered drill to tap maple trees Saturday. King operates a sugar shack on Route 41 in McGraw and usually produces about 350 gallons of syrup a year.
McGRAW — Kevin King warmed up his power drill a few weeks early this year, as he drilled holes into dozens of maple trees Saturday.
King was tapping maple trees near the McGraw Cemetery and said he hopes this year will be good for syrup production. He operates a sugar shack on Route 41 and usually produces about 350 gallons of syrup a year.
“Right now, things are looking pretty good and we’re already tapping trees,” said King, who has about 1,800 taps in McGraw. “We’ll hopefully get started with production this week.”
Due to warmer than usual daytime temperatures, local maple syrup producers are hoping to get a jump start on the season.
King and other maple syrup producers said they usually begin extracting sap from trees at the end of February or in early March, because they need the temperatures to be just right to catalyze the process.
“Typically, I don’t start tapping trees until Valentine’s Day or President’s Day,” said Marathon Village Mayor John Pitman, who produces maple syrup in Lapeer. “This is unusual weather for this early in February. I’m hoping it’s a good season, but you don’t know until it’s over.”
Thus far, it’s been a warm winter, with temperatures averaging about 32 degrees in February, according to statistics from the National Weather Service. Last year, temperatures were about 8 degrees colder on average.
Cold temperatures at night push sap downward, and a rise in temperature during the day pushes it upward and gets it flowing.
King said temperatures need to be near 40 degrees during the day and just below freezing at night to get the process flowing at its best.
Maple syrup makers collect sap from maple trees and boil it down to form a golden or golden brown syrup. They usually boil it in large pans inside a sugar shack, a small building designed for syrup making.
Local producers study 10-day forecasts and plan their strategies accordingly. King said that every syrup season is different in Central New York, because temperatures vary widely.
“We tapped (trees) all least year in snow shoes,” King said.
Another local syrup producer, Sandra Wilcox, said she will have most of her trees tapped by Monday. She said temperatures are predicted to rise toward the end of this week and she hoped to begin extracting some sap from the trees by then.
She said the season usually lasts between four and six weeks. She hopes warmer winter temperatures could give her a few extra weeks of sap.
“We’re tapping about three weeks early this year,” Wilcox said.
As the season progresses, Wilcox worries temperatures could be too high in March. She said a few days over 60 degrees can derail the process.
Wilcox sells maple products at Countryside Hardware in DeRuyter and has about 3,800 to 4,000 taps.
Last year was a banner year for New York maple syrup producers.
In 2011, there were 564,000 gallons of syrup production, up from the 312,000 gallons produced in 2010, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Production was the highest it has been since 1947.
Wilcox said she produced 1,500 gallons of syrup last year, which was about 400 gallons more than usual.
Wilcox hopes for another good year in 2012. But while temperatures are giving the producers an early start, Wilcox says the weather will ultimately determine how sweet this season will be.
“It’s certainly weather oriented. Last year was a great-old sugary year,” Wilcox said. “It’s always a process.”
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