Syrup producers wrap up a strong maple season


Warmer-than-normal temperatures proved to be the sweet spot for many of Vermont's maple syrup producers during the 2018 sugaring season. The milder days kept the spigots flowing longer, and earlier. By season's end, statewide production had tapped out at nearly 2 million gallons of syrup — about half of what is produced in all of the United States. At family-owned Baird Farm in Chittenden, 2018 has been a banner sugaring season due to the softer weather and the continuation of two good yearly cycles. "Like many other sugar makers across the state, 2017 was a record year for us," co-owner Robert Baird said. "We finished with approximately 6,400 gallons off 11,000 taps. This past season we produced just shy of 6,000 gallons off the same tap. Still over a half gallon per tap, which is usually seen as a solid rule of thumb for a decent crop." He added,"The general takeaway from this past season is that a lot of sugar makers at higher elevations and colder temperatures have had a rougher go because the weather was fairly marginal." According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Vermont maple syrup producers set 5.67 million taps in 2018 — 5 percent more than during the previous season, and the largest number of taps since 1928. The 2018 season lasted 52 days, nearly a week longer than the 46 days of 2017. The state had led the nation in maple taps since 1916, and "Vermont sugar makers continue to lead the nation," said Agriculture Secretary Anson Tebbetts. "Their commitment to quality stands alone, producing a natural product that's beloved around the world." In 2018, Vermont syrup production totaled 1.94 million gallons, down 2 percent from last year, said Gary Keough, state statistician of the USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service, and location played a significant part. "Some producers were encouraged to tap earlier this season by the warmer-than-normal temperatures. The earliest sap flow reported was Jan. 12 in Vermont," Keough said. Betsy Luce, of Sugarbush Farm in Woodstock, said production in Vermont in general has continued to increase because many sugar makers have increased the number of trees tapped. Producers have also grown more sophisticated by added tubing and boiling equipment, so more trees can be tapped using less manpower. Many large producers have also gone into business with over 250,000 taps, she said. "Here at Sugarbush Farm we tap about 9,000 trees," Luce said, and 2016 and 2017 were "record years as far as usual production for the number of trees we had. We think it was just extra good sugaring weather — warm days and cold nights, and starting in February and going through mid-April." Even so, Luce said syrup production this year was off 15 percent, even with the same number of trees tapped, and "two days less that we boiled due to two less days of perfect weather and possibly a chilly season in general when it didn't warm up as much as usual, and so while sap flowed, there were (fewer) total 'big runs.'" Baird said the farm's decision to add several thousand more taps over the past five years was "based off a number of factors." "First and foremost, bulk syrup prices have remained reasonably strong enough to propel growth," he said. "Both domestic and international markets are growing. Our farm decided to undergo organic certification a few years ago. Demand for organic syrup has grown significantly in both the bulk and retail markets." The farm also has had a long-term relationship with bulk buyer Butternut Mountain Farm in Morristown, "and (we) have been fortunate enough that their success and growing sales have made our production increase possible," he said. Retail sales have also continued to rise, both locally and through online sales, Baird said.

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