Sap refuses to slow

Freeze-thaw cycle this spring has Vt. sugar makers happy

By Elaine Ezerins

Staff Writer

The Facts

Owned by

ST. ALBANS — Despite an unusually warm winter, Vermont sugar makers agree that 2016 is a great year for producing maple syrup.

Vermont sugarhouses annually produce more than 1.3 million gallons of maple syrup, according to the Vermont Agency of Commerce. That comprises almost half of all maple syrup produced in the United States every year.

This contribution racks in more than $300 million in sales.

“The weather is the driver of the sugaring season,” said Brian Stowe, the sugaring operations manager at Proctor Maple Research Center in Underhill. The University of Vermont’s Proctor Maple Research Center conducts studies on the sugar maple tree and its products year round.

Stowe said the success of a season depends on the number of freezes and thaws over the course of the winter, and this year, there have been quite a few.

“Overall it’s been very good,” Stowe said. “The flavor has been really excellent.”

Stowe said the quantity level for some people has been at an all time high, breaking previous records.

“While it’s all anecdotal at this point, everybody I’ve talked to has been really enthusiastic about this season,” Matt Gordon, executive director of the Vermont Sugar Makers’ Association, said in a press release.

“Another thing I’ve been hearing is that there is a shortage of barrels and drums to put the syrup in,” Gordon said. “That usually means there’s been a pretty good drop.”

Stowe said the sap stopped running last weekend due to the cold weather. Afterward, the wood fibers took a while to thaw, but the sap started flowing again.

“It’s full steam ahead,” Stowe said.

He said he wasn’t sure when the season would end. It depends on the character and color of the buds on the trees. When the buds begin to swell and break and the flavor of the sap changes, the season is over, Stowe said.

The Proctor Center as well as Branon Family Maple Orchards in Fairfield both started the sugaring season in early January.

“We started sapping the second of January,” Cecile Branon said. “Had one or two runs in January, some in February. We had to stop and pick it back up.”

Branon agreed with Stowe, saying the flavor was excellent this year.

She was worried about the price of maple syrup and whether it would be down to due the status of the Canadian dollar against the U.S. dollar. Currently one Canadian dollar is worth $.77 in U.S. currency.

“Hopefully it won’t be a lot less than last year,” she said.

Branon, who serves as the co-chair of the annual Vermont Maple Festival in St. Albans, said Friday she will spend her afternoon boiling.

The 2016 festival is set for April 22, 23 and 24 in downtown St. Albans.