Sugaring season drawing to a close

ADDISON COUNTY — After a banner maple syrup spring in 2011, county sugarmakers this week were facing an early end to this year’s season.
Tim Hescock of Vermont Trade Winds Farm in Shoreham said this year he tapped his 2,200 trees earlier than usual and began boiling 19 days early. As of last Friday his season was over.
On Tuesday, Hescock said the prolonged high temperatures this week likely would end any chance of more sap flowing in Addison County maples.
“If it got cold again right now, we could keep going,” he said. “But by the time we get another couple days of hot weather, it’ll be done.”
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At Norris Sugarworks in South Starksboro, the sap ran through the weekend and there was still more to boil on Tuesday.
“We actually are still having pretty good success, surprisingly,” said Kathleen Norris.
But she said even at the higher elevation, the weather was drawing the season to a close at a precipitous rate.
“We’re at half a crop now,” said Norris. “Normally that’s fine, if we’re not close to done.”
Moe Rheaume, president of the Addison County Sugarmakers Association, said that’s the case across most of the county. The season is at its end at least two weeks earlier than normal, and most sugarmakers are pulling their taps and finishing up at between one third and one half of a normal crop.
“This is a really short season,” he said. “I’ve been sugaring for 40 years and I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Just a few days after the last freeze, sap stops dripping into buckets hung on trees. But with vacuum systems, he said, sap can continue to be collected through plastic tubing for eight or nine days after a freeze.
Even though the buds aren’t out on most trees yet, Rheaume said the quality of the sap has deteriorated very quickly with the warm weather, which is why most sugarmakers have called it quits.
Most sugarmakers were taking the low yield in stride, though.
“You can’t always have a bodacious year like last year,” said Donna Hutchison of Mt. Pleasant Sugarworks in Leicester.
And, she said, the flavor this year has been very good.
“We made more extremes,” said Hutchison. “More fancy, more grade C.”
Rheaume said it’s been a good year for grade A syrup, which sells for a higher price.
“The quality and taste of the syrup has been good overall,” he said.
While he’s not sure what the maple syrup prices will look like this year, Rheaume said short years are good for the market, since Vermont has more syrup producers and higher yields than ever before.
“There are ups and downs in the industry,” he said. “Shortages increase the price, but they also level the playing field. It’s not a bad thing for the industry.”
Tim Wilmot, University of Vermont Extension maple specialist, said that over the last 20 years, vacuum pumps that draw sap out of the trees have become nearly ubiquitous in the Vermont maple industry. As a result, producers have the capacity to make more syrup than ever before.
“What producers will do in a poor year now is better than a good year before,” he said.
Reporter Andrea Suozzo is at [email protected].

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