October 26, 2014

Long, cold winter causing maple syrup slowdown

Tim Barnum
Denny Gilbert, Craig Harrison and Gary Morgan stomp through the snow and stretch out the lines that will carry sap from the trees to the syrup shack.
Tim Barnum
John Bowman works to untangle and roll out the lines that will be attached to the trees on Roy Harrison's property.
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MAPLE RIDGE — In most years, Maple Ridge resident Roy Harrison is able to wrap up production on his maple syrup crop in early April, but this year, Harrison said he is not sure when the syrup will be bottled.

The trees are usually tapped and sap is typically running in late February or the beginning of March, according to Harrison. The weather conditions forced Harrison and his crew to wait until Friday, March 14 to run their lines, and March 15 to tap the trees.

“It has to be warm enough so you can work a fitting,” he said. “Or else that plastic breaks when it’s too cold.”

In a March 10 Michigan Farm News article published on the Michigan Farm Bureau website, Michigan Maple Syrup Association President Art Currey said producers are worried the season could be too short because of the weather delay.

“We're worried that it will all end too quickly,” he said. “We want a cold winter without a lot of mini-runs. Our preference is a freeze the first of December, and that it will stay frozen until the end of February. This year, though, it's getting colder into March, and as the season progresses, no one can get in the woods. Even if they could get through the snow, it's too cold for plastic tubing.”

Curry said the amount of snowfall this winter also complicated maple syrup harvesting.

“It's very difficult to get through the snow, especially in the north,” he said. “We have three feet of snow to get through, and even in the south, there's two feet. You can use snowshoes, but if there is any slope to your woods, it's difficult.”

A longer wait to get started means more sap is needed to make a gallon of syrup, Harrison said.

“The sugar content goes down as the season goes, and it takes longer to make a gallon,” he said.

Harrison, 84, said when production is started on time, it takes 45 gallons of sap to make one gallon of maple syrup, and that he makes about 250 to 350 gallons of maple syrup most years. While the weather is causing problems, Harrison said it is just part of farming.

“You never know what’s going to happen,” he said. “It’s part of farming. It all depends on the weather.”

Currey said having to postpone when the trees were tapped due to the long, cold winter should not lessen the quality of the syrup crop this year. And while this year the problem was a late start, being able to start early does not guarantee a successful crop, Currey said. He told Michigan Farm News that in 2012, his Charlevoix operation started on time, but spring arrived too quickly.

“We were done by March 15,” he said. “We got 800 gallons of syrup. The next year, we got 1,920 gallons. Spring was too early. This year it's too late.”

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