Maple syrup season is here

It’s early March, the time of year when local maple syrup producers across the North Country are busy tapping, or have finished tapping, literally hundreds of thousands of trees in anticipation of this year’s harvest. It’s time to reap the reward, to collect the sap and boil it down with pride and care, turning out gallon after gallon of delicious, pure maple syrup.

The weather has been relatively warm this winter, however. And I can’t help but wonder if (and how) the unseasonably warm weather might affect this year’s maple crop. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Centers for Environmental Information, New York just experienced the state’s second-warmest January on record. The same can be said for Pennsylvania, and Indiana, while Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut and New Jersey all had their warmest January on record, with temperatures more than 11 degrees above the long-term average in all seven of those states. New Hampshire actually came in at 12.3 degrees above average.

Burlington, Vermont recorded its fifth warmest January since 1884 (source: Burlington National Weather Service) and the nation, as a whole, recorded its sixth-warmest January ever.

Sugaring is weather-related

Every maple producer knows that when the season starts is not nearly as important as how long the season lasts. Mid-March is still considered the start of the traditional North Country sap collection season.

For generations, area maple syrup producers tapped their trees in mid- to late February and early March, in anticipation of four to six weeks of sap flow during March and April. But, over time, as weather conditions began changing, many of the region’s producers began tapping their trees earlier and earlier.

We still have years when the season doesn’t start until mid- to late March, but the current perception seems to be that winters are generally less severe now, that spring often arrives earlier than it used to and that the region now receives considerably more warm weather during the traditional tapping season than it once did.

Temperature swings aren’t cause for alarm. In fact, they can be advantageous. Producers run into problems when the weather stays warm however, because prolonged warm weather can bring the season to an untimely end.

More often than not, earlier sap runs have become the norm. And with temperatures getting into the 40s and 50s, the sap was flowing in mid-February. Several area maple syrup producers were collecting sap and have already made their first maple syrup of the season. Among them are Brandy Brook Maple Farm and Old Tyme Winery in Ellenburg, Parker Family Maple Farm in West Chazy, Bechard’s Sugar House in West Chazy, Cedar Brook Farm Maple Confections in Malone and Winters Harvest Sugar Shack in North Bangor. All are optimistic about the season ahead.

What causes sap to flow

Sap flow is entirely temperature dependent. When nighttime temperatures fall into the 20s. and daytime temperatures range in the 40s, preferably with sunny skies (conditions associated with the winter season gradually transitioning to spring), the rise in the temperature of the sapwood creates a positive pressure within the tree. That positive pressure is what causes the sap to flow.

Most people believe that sap flows up from the tree’s roots when warm days follow cold nights, but that’s not necessarily the case. Sap may actually flow down from the tree’s branches and then out through the spout. In fact, because a taphole is pretty much nothing more than a leak, sap will move toward the taphole (the point of lowest pressure) from all directions, in much the same way that blood flows out of a wound.

By the numbers

Our nation’s maple syrup producing families work hard. And they take great pride in producing only the finest quality pure maple syrup.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Agricultural Statistics Service, American maple syrup producers set 14,300,000 taps in 2022, and produced 5,028,000 gallons of maple syrup. That’s just a little bit more than one third of a gallon per tap. New York maple producers set 2.9 million of those taps and made 845,000 gallons of syrup. Vermont maple producers set 6.65 million taps and made 2,550,000 gallons of syrup.

NASS won’t release the retail value of the 2022 maple syrup crop until June of this year. But in 2021, the U.S. maple syrup crop had a retail value of $133,648,000. Syrup produced in New York and the New England states accounted for more than 85% of that crop’s value; $114,621,000.

Buy maple and buy local

Maple syrup production is a time-honored North County tradition, a popular hobby and an important part of farming to many North Country families. Each maple farm family’s situation is unique, as are their values and their operations. Nonetheless, these families are united by a shared commitment to quality, self-sufficiency, sustainable forestry and environmental stewardship.

You can support New York state sugar makers and the maple products industry in New York state by buying maple and buying local. Check out the New York State Maple Producers Association website at nysmaple.com to find producers near you. And while you’re there, look for upcoming events like pancake breakfasts. And check out the recipes. They’re awesome!


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