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Mild weather a boon for maple syrup

  • Jeff Moore of Windswept Maple Farm in Loudon kicks closed the door of the wood-fired evaporator at their maple processing building on an early February day, when it was already warm enough to make syrup. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff



Monitor staff
Saturday, June 18, 2016

There’s nothing like a little help from Mother Nature when it comes to making maple syrup.

That’s pretty much what it boils down to, said Jim Fadden, president of the New Hampshire Maple Producers Association. A lot depends on the weather.

New Hampshire produced 169,000 gallons of maple syrup in this year – almost a 10 percent increase from the 154,000 gallons the state turned out in 2015, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

There was no statewide surge in maple syrup farms. In fact, when compared with numbers from the 2015 season, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported 15,000 fewer taps in New Hampshire maple trees this year.

Nor was there a recent technological revolution in the maple syrup industry over the past year to explain the state’s increased syrup yield – today’s reverse osmosis machines and artificial vacuum pumps were around for previous seasons.

Credit must be given where credit is due. And Fadden said this winter’s climate was simply prime for a long season of sap collecting – in northern and central New Hampshire, at least.

“Weather is paramount for a good year,” he said. “If you have cold nights and warm days, you’ll get good sap flow.”

However, conditions weren’t quite as ripe in all areas of the state. Dean Wilbur, the owner of Mapletree Farm in Concord, said his crop this year was below average.

“It was not a great season for us,” Wilbur said. “In mid-March, I was boiling and it was something like 75 degrees. And that is not maple weather.”

For Wilbur, last winter marked 41 years of making syrup at the Concord farm. During this time, he noticed different shifts in weather trends, the most notable of which have happened in the past 20 years, he said.

“We’re tapping earlier and the season is ending earlier overall,” he said. “Conditions are changing big time.”

Wilbur said his most recent season began in early February and ended March 24, noting a much earlier close date than other recent years. Others – such as Russell Lampron, owner of Red Roof Maples in Loudon – focused more on the early start.

“I missed the first run,” Lampron said. “I made my first taps on Feb. 2. Some of the local producers had taps in earlier and had a good run the week before.”

Despite the scramble to begin and strange weather, Lampron said he produced 172 gallons of syrup this season – a couple gallons more than he makes in an average year. The climate was generally favorable, he said. And when things got too warm, he could always depend on his mechanical pump and artificial vacuum to change the tree’s internal pressure and increase sap flow.

Fadden compared this technique for making artificial snow for a ski slope.

“Sometimes the weather isn’t just right,” he said. “But with the vacuum, you can somewhat count on making the same amount sap year after year after year.”

Wilbur said his farm isn’t set up for an artificial vacuum system, although he did experiment with other natural techniques this year. However, for the Concord resident, the temperature is the real deciding factor.

“You need to have a freeze-thaw cycle in order for the sap to flow,” he said. “You need freezes at nights and warmer days.”

Warmer winters can mean other things as well, Wilbur said, including darker syrup and an increased risk of bacteria.

“You have to boil the syrup more, and then you get a darker, more concentrated flavor,” he added.

Fadden, who owns his own sugar house in Woodstock, said his business and many others up north had “terrific” seasons.

“I was surprised because the winter was so open,” he said. “We didn’t get a great deal of snow. They started early, but our runs were long and good.”

Wilbur, on the other hand, said he has learned to expect the unexpected when it comes to the climate-driven maple syrup industry.

“It’s unpredictable,” he said. “The syrup we get all depends on the weather.”

 

(Katie Galioto can be reached at 369-3302, kgalioto@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @katiegalioto.)