Syrup surge

Posted June 19, 2009, at 8:41 p.m.

MONTPELIER, Vt. — Accommodating weather and a boost in the number of maple trees tapped are being credited for a bumper 2009 maple syrup crop.

Sugar makers in Vermont and elsewhere produced 2.3 million gallons this winter, the most in at least 65 years, according to New England Agricultural Statistics.

That’s good news for cost-conscious pancake eaters and maple-loving cooks: The high supply could help keep per-gallon prices in check after a year in which they soared past $65 due to depleted supplies.

“This was an awesome year,” said Catherine Stevens, marketing director for Vermont maple syrup. “This year, we’ll be able to meet demand for the product. Even with this economy, people are still buying maple syrup. Prices, from what I hear, will stay the same, not increase.”

New England Agricultural Statistics, an arm of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, tracks syrup production using written surveys sent to several thousand sugar makers in 10 states.

According to the government:

ä Vermont, the nation’s biggest producer, yielded 920,000 gallons in the one-month period starting in late February, up 30 percent from last year.

ä Maine produced a record 395,000 gallons, up 65 percent.

ä New York produced 362,000, up 10 percent

ä Wisconsin set a record with 200,000, up 33 percent.

But Pennsylvania producers struggled with too-warm weather and in Massachusetts and New Hampshire, damage from a December ice storm prompted some sugar makers to sit out the season and others to reduce production. All three had off years, with decreases of 1 percent in New Hampshire, 8 percent in Pennsylvania and 29 percent in Massachusetts.

Also reporting decreases: Connecticut and Ohio.

Word of this year’s record season was no surprise to Bart Bradbury of Bradbury Maple Farms in the small northern Maine town of Bridgewater.

Bradbury Maple Farms, founded in 1984 by Bradbury and his father, Boyd Bradbury, tapped 3,000 trees this year, producing 525 gallons of maple syrup, Bart Bradbury said Friday.

“We had a real good yield — it was a record season for us, too,” he said, adding that the Bradbury family maple sugaring operation’s annual goal is about 500 gallons.

Better yet, sales have been strong, with 75 percent of this year’s crop sold, he said.

In 2008, global demand for maple syrup far outstripped supply, in part because lingering winter cold slowed sap flow and deep snow made it tough for sugar makers to get into the woods in Maine, neighboring Quebec province in Canada and parts of Vermont.

That brought down production and drove up prices. It also prompted many — seeing a moneymaking opportunity — to tap more trees in 2009.

In Vermont, more than 3 million trees were tapped, about 20 percent more than in 2008.

Typically, the sugaring season in New England begins in late February or early March, as daytime temperatures climb into the 40s and then nightfall brings them back down below freezing. Commercial syrup makers and backyard farmers who tap only a few dozen trees head into to the snowy woods, hammering taps into the trees.

Old-fashioned operators hang steel buckets on the taps to collect the sap. More modern farms use plastic tubing to catch it and ferry it downhill to a sugarhouse, where it’s boiled in giant evaporators and made into syrup.

It takes about 40 gallons of sap to make a gallon of maple syrup.

This year, the earliest reported sap flow was Jan. 15 in Pennsylvania; the latest, May 1 in New Hampshire, according to New England Agricultural Statistics, which is based in Concord, N.H.

“All things being equal, it was just the year the maple industry needed,” said Glenn Goodrich, whose family has been making maple syrup at Goodrich Maple Farm in Cabot, Vt., since 1835. “The consumers saw a retail increase in the last 12 months, but now the prices are back to where they should be, to cover production costs.”

BDN writer Dawn Gagnon contributed to this report.

State-by-state production

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

Following are maple syrup production totals for 2009, as reported by the federal government:

• Vermont: 920,000 gallons, up 30 percent.

• Maine: 395,000 gallons, up 65 percent.

• New York: 362,000 gallons, up 10 percent.

• Wisconsin: 200,000 gallons, up 33 percent.

• Michigan: 115,000 gallons, up 10 percent.

• New Hampshire: 94,000 gallons, down 1 percent.

• Pennsylvania: 92,000 gallons, down 8 percent

• Ohio: 90,000 gallons, down 10 percent.

• Massachusetts: 46,000 gallons, down 29 percent.

• Connecticut: 13,000 gallons, down 32 percent.

Source: New England Agricultural Statistics service, in Concord, N.H., an arm of the U.S. Department of Agriculture

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