Region’s maple syrup makers sour on season

It was a lousy year for maple syrup producers across the state and many Capital Region producers wer

It was a lousy year for maple syrup producers across the state and many Capital Region producers were not immune. Several feet of snow at the end of February coupled with a stretch of unseasonably warm days in March contributed to a short season and a less than stellar yield of sap. And the sap that was collected was darker and lower quality than in past years.

The season ended about a week ago for most local producers. Tim and Patti Everett, who own Stone House Farms in Sharon Springs, ended up with a decent season. They produced about 10 percent more than last year.

“Overall we have to be pleased with what we got,” Tim Everett said. “We’d like to have more, but compared to some of the other producers we did pretty good.”

While the Everetts were lucky, producers like Caroline Foote and her husband Victor Putnam, who own Maple Hill Farms, experienced what Foote called “the worst season in the history of our farm.”

Foote said they produced a quarter of the amount of syrup they usually make. Typically, Foote said, she produces between 800 and 900 gallons of syrup from their Cobleskill forest, but this year she only produced 290 gallons.

Foote said a number of factors contributed to the poor season, including tree roots that were too cold at the beginning of the season and weather that warmed up too fast. Foote said the family only had about three weeks of collection.

“Every odd, bad condition we could have had happened all at the same time,” she said.

Adding insult to injury, Foote said she purchased new equipment this year hoping it would help the farm produce more product.

“So we’ve got a lease on that and we still have to buy bulk syrup,” she said. “Double ouch.”

Michael Broadwell, a small producer in Carlisle, said he produced about 30 percent less than last year.

“When you’re working with Mother Nature you get what you can get,” he said. “You always want more.”

Broadwell said he was late getting out to the sugarbush and the large snowstorm didn’t help.

“It took so long for the sap to run, and in the middle of the month it got real warm and then, at the end of the month, it was around 70 degrees. When you’re talking 30 degrees above normal, that’s a losing battle in maple syrup,” he said.

Additionally, the quality of the syrup for Broadwell wasn’t ideal. The warm temperatures created a darker syrup at the end of the season, some of which the Broadwells wouldn’t be able to sell.

The darker the syrup the more mapley the flavor is, Broadwell said. If the syrup gets too dark it is not considered table grade anymore, which means it isn’t good to have with your pancakes. Rather, that syrup — dubbed commercial grade — is sold to various distributors who sell it to companies that use it to create maple flavoring in things like sausage and chewing tobacco.

Across the state, maple producers reported a lackluster year, according to Helen Thomas, executive director of the New York State Maple Producers Association.

Producers south of the state Thruway, particularly in the Catskills, reported yields that were less than 10 percent of normal yields.

Thomas said the Capital Region fared better, producing about 75 percent of typical yields.

“I’ve heard real horror stories of producers who tapped 400 trees and got about four gallons of syrup,” Thomas said.

The best part of the state is in the northern areas around Plattsburgh where the season has continued, Thomas said.

Producers across the state have pointed to a number of variables that they think contributed to the bad year, including the weather, a lack of moisture — or too much moisture, or pests that have ruined the trees.

“It shows that we really don’t understand the full process and we’re still very dependent on Mother Nature,” Thomas said.

While production is down, Thomas said the overall cost of New York maple products should remain consistent to the consumer. Thomas said there is enough product in the state and across New England to meet the demand, so the cost won’t increase.

New York maple products should be more available to consumers this year as the Maple Producers Association has worked hard to get New York products in grocery stories throughout the state, Thomas said.

Categories: Schenectady County

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