Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Maple Producers Awaiting Good Weather

I did this story last week and it ran Saturday, March 7, 2015. If temperatures stay in the 40s during the day and down to the 20s at night, all might be saved!

If this horrible winter weather doesn’t shape up fast, the wonderful sweetness of Maple Weekends could be in jeopardy.

To date, it’s been too cold and too snowy for most maple syrup producers to get into the woods and tap their trees. And even if they could tap, it’s been too cold for the sap to run.

“Right now, some of the producers are getting things together and getting things ready,” said Michele Ledoux, executive director of Cornell Cooperative Extension of Lewis County — the state’s largest maple producing county.

“They are all waiting for the weather to break,” she said.

Maple producers need temperatures in the 40s during the day and in the 20s at night for the best sap extraction. The Weather Channel forecast for Lowville from today through Thursday shows highs of 32 today and Wednesday and a high of 36 on Monday.

But that’s it. All of the other days have highs only in the 20s or teens. The lows aren’t any good either, ranging from 19 tonight to 13 on Sunday and Thursday nights.

Maple Weekends, New York’s annual celebration of all that is maple, are being held March 21 and 22 and March 28 and 29. 

On those weekends, many producers throughout the state open up their operations so the public can see how trees are tapped, how sap is collected and how sap is boiled down to make syrup. Some producers even operate pancakes breakfasts featuring their fresh maple syrup.

“This is a good question,” said Dale Moser, of Moser’s Maple in Beaver Falls, Lewis County, when asked if anyone will have sap to boil for Maple Weekends. “It’s just wait and see.”

Usually by this time of year, producers have tapped and have already been making syrup. 

According to statistics from the state Department of Agriculture and Markets, the earliest  a maple season began was Jan 10 in 2011. The latest a season began was April 1 in 1940.

Mr. Moser, who is the fourth generation of maple producers on his farm, said he remembers one year back in the late 1950s or early 1960s when he didn’t tap his trees until late March and didn’t have syrup until Easter weekend in April.

For 2014, the season was short — beginning March 13 and ending April 14 — a total of 32 days. In 2013, the season was 40 days long from Feb. 27 to April 9.

But Helen Thomas, of Syracuse, executive director of the New York Maple Producers Association, said while last year’s season was a bit short, the quality and quantity of the syrup was excellent.

A total of 546,000 gallons were made in 2014, down just slightly from 2013’s record production of 574,000 gallons.

The biggest problems this year are the cold and snow pack. 

“All the feeder roots to the trees are frozen, the ground is frozen and in some places, the snow is waist deep or deeper,” Mr. Moser said. “And for the sap to be sweet we need a lot of wet weather and moisture on the ground.”

He said New York needs about three to four days in the 40s and then a light rain “to take the snow down.” The ground has to thaw so the moisture from the snow and rain can seep into the soil.

“The ground is so frozen, nothing is moving,” Ms. Ledoux said of the sap.

Mr. Moser said some maple producers may have some syrup to sell at Maple Weekend festivities if the weather doesn’t cooperate. But others might be out of luck.

“We just keep checking the forecasts and then checking the Farmers’ Almanac,” Mr. Moser said.

Wish I had a crystal ball,” Ms. Thomas said.

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