Seventy-degree fahrenheit weather, and low sugar content in tree sap have resulted in one of the shortest seasons for maple sugar production in Vermont in over a decade.
Allison Hope, executive director of the Vermont Maple Sugar Makers’ Association, says that most sugar makers produced anywhere from 40% to 70% of an average crop of maple syrup this season.
“It was a little bit of a lot of different things and none of them worked great. So like anything in farming, you’re sort of at the whim of mother nature and some of those things just sort of came together,” she said.
Hope says that the winter hung around for a while and then the warm weather, combined with a lack of rain early, made the season particularly dry and short.
“When people say they had a lot of sap coming in, that’s great, but if the sugar content is so low that you need twice as much sap — or a third more sap — to make a gallon of syrup then you’re doing all that work and you’re making less end product than the results of it,” she says.
She says this was a pretty consistent occurrence not just in Vermont but in other maple producing states as well.
“We’re coming off a pretty good season prior to this. That makes it a little bit easier to bear, but farmers everywhere, with any crop, still have to pay all the bills that you have whether your crop did well or poorly,” she said.
Jeff Kane , along with his wife Shannon, own Sugar Mountain Maples in Sheldon. They say they ran about 65% of a normal crop during the season.
“We started March 10 and we were done April 7. I think we boiled 17 times,” says Kane. “We normally pipeline sap test around 2% or close to it. This year a lot of times it was 1.5% of sugar content instead of 2.”
Another aspect According to Hope, the price for bulk syrup was up about 30%. However, a fairly low year last year means that this won’t make up for a bad crop year this year.
“If you make less maple syrup, no matter where you’re selling it you’re still making less money. However, each bulk producer depending on their size will usually pay different prices for the grades of syrup and a premium for organic,” she says.
“With the pandemic a lot of people thought … ‘Oh with all the restaurants closed there would be a ton of syrup,’ but actually the inventory is gone. Of course the season started late...it was March, but most of the big packers said their inventory was pretty well gone,” says Kane.
However, Hope says that many sugar makers who knew enough to diversify their accounts didn’t sell all of their product.
“Unless you sold it in bulk, but if you sold it in retail and on your own you didn’t have all of your syrup in one business and folks have mostly adapted,” she says.
“We’re not coming off of a bad year so it could be worse. It’s not great for a lot of people but it’s certainly, you know … last year was above average so that’s a blessing,” says Hope.