Farmers take advantage of good maple season

The sweet smell of boiling maple sap filled the sap house at Stone House Farm near Sharon Springs as
--Maple syrup buckets hang along Lynk Road at the Stone House Farm near Sharon Springs, a site where production of the product is showing an increase over the past two  years.
--Maple syrup buckets hang along Lynk Road at the Stone House Farm near Sharon Springs, a site where production of the product is showing an increase over the past two years.

The sweet smell of boiling maple sap filled the sap house at Stone House Farm near Sharon Springs as Tim Everett checked the temperature and color of the amber fluid circulating through his evaporator.

Like scores of farmers and commercial maple product producers around the region, Everett thinks this year’s syrup season is looking a lot better than the past two years.

“So far, it’s been pretty good,” Everett said Thursday.

After two bad years, this season seems to be back to normal, which means sap flowing strong from mid-February through mid-April, according to area producers.

Climate change models are floating some dark clouds on the distant horizon, however, according to two Cornell University researchers. If global warming worries prove true, the sweet season at sugar houses in northern New York could be peaking in late January by 2080, they said in a recent report on research efforts.

Effect of climate change

Long-term sap collection records on trees at Cornell’s Uihlein Forest Maple Research Station in Lake Placid “show that both the start and end of the sap season has moved about a week earlier in the past 30 years, with an overall loss of three to four days of production,” station director Michael Farrell said.

Six maple producers have begun working with Farrell and Cornell researcher Brian F. Chabot to evaluate the effects of climate change on the industry.

The tests, to determine the advantages and disadvantages of tapping trees earlier, or staggering tapping times, will be done at locations scattered from the St. Lawrence Valley/Tug Hill region and across the North County to the Champlain Valley.

“We are eager to see how the diverse climate influences in northern New York from the Great Lakes and the Adirondacks will impact project results,” Chabot wrote.

The maple syrup industry is worth about $1.7 million to northern New York’s economy alone, according to the researchers. Maple syrup and related business and tourism impacts is estimated to be worth about $32 million a year statewide.

New York’s production is virtually tied with Maine and second only to Vermont as the largest syrup producer in the nation, according to The New York State Maple Producers Association.

About 1,500 maple farmers harvest sap commercially in New York. In 2007, they made more than 224,000 gallons of syrup, according to the New York Agricultural Statistics Service, a decrease of about 11 percent from 2006. Only Vermont produced more syrup, recording 450,000 gallons last year.

State Agriculture Commissioner Patrick Hooker, a former Schoharie County resident and frequent participant in Schoharie maple events, taps maples at his farm in southern Herkimer County just outside Richfield Springs.

The temperature in the “sugarbush” where the maples are tapped is the key. Freezing nights and daytime temperatures warming into the 40s — preferably with sunshine — are needed to get the sap flowing, said Jerry Lape, president of the Schoharie County Maple Festival.

Farmers’ first harvest

Lape, like many small farmers in region, does a little hobby syrup making, mostly for home use.

Others, such as Everett and dozens of producers throughout the Capital Region and central New York, bottle syrup for sale, make candy and offer pancake breakfasts for retail customers to flavor with fresh syrup.

For many farmers, the sap marks the first harvest of the year, providing some extra cash before hay or regular crops are growing.

“The decision on when to tap is critical,” said Farrell in a statement announcing the climate change research. “If one taps too early, the tap holes may dry up prematurely, causing producers to miss late season runs,” he said. Delaying to the traditional February/March tapping season could result in producers missing the early runs, according to Farrell.

After 15 seasons in the sap business, however, Everett is skeptical of the global warming fears.

“It doesn’t really bother me,” he said. “It seems to change both ways.”

Two years ago, Everett said the first sap didn’t start flowing good until March 19. “Last year, it was the third of March before we made any syrup, but it turned out to be a short season.”

Last year it was too warm last March, then April came in with a cold snap, then a quick warm-up that stopped usable sap.

Gilboa Supervisor Anthony VanGlad, who with his brother Andy runs about 8,000 taps to supply their Wood Homestead Maple Syrup operation in southern Schoharie County, believes the sap season has been moving earlier in recent years.

The VanGlads supply most of their average annual 1,500 gallons of syrup to New York City farmers markets. Last year’s short and erratic season cut that production to only about 750 gallons.

Like other local producers, VanGlad said this year’s more normal weather bodes well for a good syrup supply. VanGlad made the first syrup of this season on March 5, “which was actually a little late,” he said.

One impact of recent seasonal shifts has been that southern Canadian producers “have been able to produce more into April,” VanGlad said.

Over the past couple of seasons, some New York producers have been worried about losing market share to Canadian competition, the largest maple syrup producing country in the world.

VanGlad’s Gilboa sap house uses a sophisticated reverse osmosis system, rather than traditional slow evaporators.

Reverse osmosis systems typically use a high-pressure pump to force up to 80 percent of the water in sap through a membrane. They operate nearly automatically and reduce evaporation time. While more expensive that standard evaporators, VanGlad said the system saves fuel oil costs and operational time and labor over the long run.

Sap house tours

Self-guided tours of sap houses are planned from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. today and next weekend by members of the Upper Hudson Maple Producers Association in Saratoga, Fulton, Rensselaer, Washington, Warren and Hamilton counties.

The season’s peak for visitors is expected to be the statewide Maple Weekend, Friday through Sunday, March 30.

In Schoharie County, several producers are hosting events next weekend, including Maple Hill Farms near Howe Caverns just east of Cobleskill. Visitors can tour the sap house for free and sample some sweet treats, according to spokeswoman Kathy Condon.

At Stone House Farm in Sharon Springs, Tim Everett and his wife, Patti, have been hosting their 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday and Sunday breakfasts since early February and expect to continue through April at their 40-seat sap house on Lynk Road off U.S. 20, about a mile west of the center of the village.

Everett said he started sugaring as a hobby about 15 years ago on his family’s 180-acre dairy farm. He built the first half of his now 2,000-square-foot sap house, shop and breakfast room in 1993.

In 2002 he replaced a used sap evaporator with a $15,000 lead-free stainless steel, wood-fired evaporator. A similar setup would probably cost at least $25,000 now, said Tim Korona Jr., the fiance of Everett’s daughter Randi.

Korona, 24, works the season at Stone House Farm. When he’s not busy stocking the big firebox with wood to keep sap boiling, he’s pumping freshly collected sap into a 600-gallon tank that feeds it into the evaporator system.

It takes about 40 gallons of raw sap to produce a gallon of high-grade, filtered syrup. Using his own firewood helps keep costs down, compared to producers who burn fuel oil, Everett said.

They burn a full cord of wood for every 50 gallons of syrup, Everett said. Stone House Farm expects to make about 400 gallons of syrup each year.

This season, Stone House is selling syrup at $40 per gallon, with smaller quantities available down to about $5. The average price around the region is about $45 per gallon or higher, he said, reflecting increasing fuel and material costs.

Information and lists of sugar houses statewide may be found online at or at

Producers in Schoharie and Otsego counties will host the annual Schoharie County Maple Festival at the Cobleskill fairgrounds on April 26.

Categories: Schenectady County

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