March 22, 2010
Maple syrup season not so sweet
Warm, dry weather hinders producers
Joe McIntyre/staff photographer
Elizabeth Metzger of Sugar Ridge Maple Farm in Homer fills containers with fresh maple syrup Friday. Syrup producers say syrup production is down this year.
Recent unseasonably warm weather has thrilled many local residents, but it has made for a poor maple syrup season, say three local syrup producers.
Sandy Wilcox, Kevin King and Tom Herting all said they have only produced about one-third the amount of maple syrup they typically produce.
After a heavy snowfall made tapping trees difficult, temperatures have risen too high both at night and during the day, and a drought has caused a lack of moisture in the ground and in the trees, they said.
“Everything is working against us this year,” Wilcox said.
Cold temperatures at night push maple syrup downward, and a rise in temperature during the day push it upward and get it flowing, said Herting, who runs a sugar shack in Cortlandville with retired dairy farmer Dick Osbeck.
“You have to get that freeze to get the sap to run right. If it doesn’t freeze, we don’t get much sap,” said Wilcox, who runs a sugar shack in DeRuyter.
“The weather’s been so warm so early,” King said. “It hasn’t cooled off at night enough to make it come down and run in the morning like it should,” said King, who runs a sugar shack in McGraw.
Maple syrup makers take 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.
Syrup-making season generally starts in early March and ends in early April.
An ideal nighttime temperature for syrup making is in the mid-20s, said Wilcox. Though a change in temperature is needed to get the syrup flowing, ideally, it should only rise into the 40s during the day, Wilcox said. Throughout the past two weeks daily high temperatures have been in the 50s and 60s.
Wilcox, who has been making maple syrup for a little over 20 years, said she has not seen a season this poor since 1990 — one of her first years in production.
“It’s been a horrible year for us and most everyone else in this area,” Wilcox said.
When the season began in February, there were 2 to 3 feet of snow on the ground.
Herting said he is glad he tapped his trees before March 1, just before a heavy snowstorm hit. Syrup makers who did not have their trees tapped before then have had the least success, he said.
“This season was very difficult tapping because you were knee deep in snow in the woods,” Herting said.
Wilcox said some syrup makers have said they are done for the season, but she is hoping for another 10 days of production. She is hoping that this week’s anticipated cooler temperatures will allow for increased production.
The forecast this week calls for daily temperatures in the high 40s and low 50s, and lows in the high 20s and low 30s, according to The Weather Channel’s Web site.
Last year Wilcox said she produced 1,250 gallons of maple syrup. As of Saturday, she had only produced 400 gallons. In a typical year she produces between 1,000 and 1,200 gallons.
King said Saturday that he had produced 76 gallons of syrup. He produced 340 gallons in 2008 and 157 gallons in 2009, he said.
Herting had produced about 55 gallons as of Saturday. He said he would have produced 150 gallons by then in a typical year.
King said that the early blooming of the trees has taken some of the sugar content from the sap, worsening the sap’s quality. As a result, he said, he has to boil the sap longer to create high quality maple syrup.
King bottles his syrup and sells it at his McGraw sugar shack. He also sells some of it to Wilcox, who sells syrup to a bulk supplier. The supplier sells syrup to larger syrup companies, including brands such as Aunt Jemima that only use a small amount of real maple syrup to add flavor to their syrups, King said.
Wilcox sells her syrup at Countryside Hardware, a store she owns in DeRuyter.
Herting, who is a technology teacher at Cortland High School, said he sells most of his syrup to friends and colleagues, and brings some in for his students to taste.
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