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Late Start

Syrup producers hoping for better harvest than last year

March 6, 2011
By MIKE ZUMMO, The Leader-Herald

There's one thing several local maple syrup producers agree on about the upcoming maple harvest.

It's going to start late this year.

"It's just been so cold," said Bruce Frasier of Frasier's Sugar Shack in Lassellville. "It hasn't warmed at all."

Article Photos

Glenn Henry, owner of Paradise Sugarhouse in Mayfield, places a lid on one of his sap buckets Thursday.

The Leader-Herald/Bill Trojan

With few exceptions, temperatures over the last month have not reached much past the freezing point, and more often than not, nighttime temperatures dipped into single digits or lower.

The ideal temperatures for producing maple syrup are 45-degree days and 25-degree nights.

"That's what we have to have to have a season," said Vernon Duesler III of Mud Road Sugarhouse in Ephratah. "If we don't get down into the 20s, the trees won't build up any kind of pressure to get the sap to come out of the tap hole."

Maple syrup producers are facing a late start this year after facing a rough 2010 season.

According to a report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the maple harvest in New York state produced 312,000 gallons, which is a 29 percent decrease from 2009. The report indicated temperatures were too warm for optimal sap flow. On average, the season lasted 23 days compared with 28 days last year.

"The weather was not conducive to producing maple syrup when it was tapped," said Glenn Henry of Paradise Sugarhouse in Mayfield.

Paradise, which runs between 400 and 600 taps makes about a 100 gallons per season normally, saw the decrease along with other area producers.

Steve Savage of Peaceful Valley Maple Farms in Johnstown, who put out about 8,000 taps starting Feb. 7, said he did about 60 percent of a normal crop. Duesler, who has 1,900 taps out, said last season he produced about 40 percent of his normal production.

That includes an early start.

"When it warmed up, it stayed warm," Duesler said. "We didn't get the cold nights that we needed. The snowpack melted and the ground started to dry up fast."

Although the season ended early last year, it got off to a good start for several producers.

"At this time last year, I had 180 gallons made," Frasier said. So far this year, he hasn't made any maple syrup yet.

One of the larger producers in the area is Adirondack Maple Farm, based in Fonda. Adirondack set up about 40,000 taps in four counties, giving Roblee a varied result.

"It's funny because some counties were OK, but some counties were terrible," he said.

He said so far, Adirondack has produced 400 or 500 gallons of maple syrup. The syrup that came out of the early taps he said was very low in sugar content. Savage also said he produced about 25 gallons of syrup so far this season, which had an amber color.

"If you have a long cold stretch without a warmup, sugar is higher; this year, it's not panning out that way," Roblee said. "There are always variables that you can't put your hand on. You have to wait and see what comes.

However, despite the challenges of last year's early end and this year's late start, area syrup producers are optimistic about the 2011 season. The harvest sap harvest usually runs from mid February until about mid-April, depending on the weather.

"That's why they call it farming," Henry said. "It's no different than planting corn in the spring and hoping you'll have a good fall harvest. When Mother Nature gets in the mix, there are lots of things that can go awry."

The upcoming weather forecast does give reason for maple syrup producers to show optimism. Temperatures, according to the National Weather Service, are expected to rise into the 40s today and drop in to the 20s tonight. Above-freezing temperatures and sub-freezing nights are expected through Wednesday.

"I'm hoping for at least an average to good season," Duesler said. "There's a lot of snowpack out there and the ground has lots of moisture in it, and that's what we need. Now, [hopefully], we can get some of those favorable temperatures."

Mike Zummo is the business editor. He can be reached at



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