Winter Weather Affecting Syrup Season

Winter weather came later than usual this year, but now it is here with a vengeance, and does not seem to want to leave. The precipitation and temperatures the area has experienced recently are generally more indicative of January than February, which normally has a tendency to be slightly more moderate, walking the line between true winter and spring temperatures. The colder than normal temperatures and snow are not only affecting people’s sanity, but are having an impact on this year’s maple syrup season.

As most familiar with syrup production know, there has to be a night’s below freezing and days above freezing for the trees to flow the water which will be condensed down to syrup. Days above freezing have been few and far between this month, so very little water has flown, and very little syrup has been made.

Deciding the correct time to tap sugar trees can be frustrating, especially with unpredictable seasons. If you open your trees too early, and cold temperatures hold sway, the holes will have healed to an extent by the time warmer temperatures arrive, and you won’t get optimal flow. Conversely, open too late, and you may miss good flows before the chemical consistency of the water changes, which affects the color and quality of the syrup. I am a syrup producer myself, and as such, I keep my ear open as to what other producers are doing. From the informal conversations I have had, the producers here on the west side of the county are at different stages of production – some have opened all their trees, some a portion, and some have not even begun to open. We opened our trees two weeks ago, but have yet to boil the first drop of water.

Another problem this abnormal season could create is the type of syrup produced. As I mentioned, the chemical makeup of the water changes over the course of the season. In a normal season, the parts of the tree’s lifeblood that promote buds and leaf growth are stored in the trees’ roots during winter, and gradually release as temperatures warm. This change is what causes the syrup to gradually darken and the flavor to become stronger throughout a typical season. Many syrup connoisseurs, including myself, prefer a darker color, but at some point during the season, the syrup produced will be grades B or C, which are too strong for normal consumption, and are generally used for cooking purposes. The danger in a season as late as this is that this change may happen quickly if temperatures go from cold to warm rapidly, reducing the amount of grade A syrup produced.

As with all things agriculture related, maple syrup production is at the mercy of Mother Nature – there will undoubtedly be syrup produced in time for the March Maple Festival in three weeks, but no one can say how much or how good.

Story By

Scott Smith

Scott Smith is the General Manager for Allegheny Mountain Radio and Station Coordinator and News Reporter for WVLS. Scott’s family has deep roots in Highland County. While he did not grow up here, he spent as much time as possible on the family farm, and eventually moved to Highland to continue the tradition, which he still pursues with his cousin. Unfortunately, farming doesn’t pay all the bills, so he has previously taken other jobs to support his farming hobby, including pressman/writer for The Recorder, and Ag Projects Coordinator for The Highland Center. He lives in Hightown with wife Michelle and son Ethan. In his spare time, he wishes he had more spare time, especially to ride his prized Harley-Davidson motorcycle.

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