Now that February’s record-breaking deep freeze is behind us, maple syrup producers across the region are hard at work harvesting some of the world’s best syrup.
And so far, March has been a great month for the sap run.
“We had an extremely cold February, as we all know, and we figured it would take a while for the trees to warm up,” West Montrose syrup producer Fred Martin said. “At the first tapping ceremony (February 27) I think it was minus -24 and we all knew full well we weren’t going to see any sap flow that day, but here we are two weeks later and we’ve made a third of a crop already. It’s a good reminder of how quickly the weather can change, and it’s been very favourable.”
It’s all about the weather for the maple syrup industry. The season starts when temperatures fluctuate between roughly plus-five and minus-five degrees Celsius during the day and night. It closes when extended warmth causes the maple tree to bud. So the longer temperatures stay in that minus-five to plus-five degree sweet spot, the more syrup that gets made.
When things go well, the economic impact is huge.
A 2012 study by the Ontario Maple Syrup Producer’s Association estimated the impact to top $53 million. That figure takes into account the production of some 2,755 operations with four million taps creating nearly 3.9 million litres of syrup each year.
Many of the best sugar bushes are right here in Woolwich and Wellesley townships.
“The Ontario average is a litre of syrup per tap,” Martin explained. “A lot of producers in this area make 1.25 litres to as high as two litres per tap. And that has to do with the area that we are in the Great Lakes basin and we get some ideal maple syrup days with the right temperature fluctuation. We’ve also got good soil which leads to healthy trees, and this area is certainly blessed with that, that’s for sure.”
With 10,000 taps here in Woolwich, Martin hopes to top 10,000 litres of syrup this season.
Last year was the best on record for his company, West Montrose Maple Syrup Producers.
“I always say what happens right in season has as much affect as what happens in the 10 or 11 months leading up to it,” he said. “And last year, we had another real cold winter. But it turned out to be the best season we’ve ever had. I always say, when everyone else is complaining about the spring, that’s probably when the syrup producers are enjoying some pretty good yields.”
The key, he said, was that the Great Lakes were all frozen over, just like this year. That leads to a slower warm-up in the region. The slower the warming, the longer the syrup season.
“We’re pleased with the way things are coming along,” Martin said, while standing amongst the trees, taps and lines that make up one of his smaller sugar bushes along Tilman Road in the north end of Elmira. Of course, there is still a ways to go and the weather can change in a hurry.
But it’s not all about quantity. And relatively cool temperatures tend to produce syrup with great flavour.
“The syrup has been excellent so far,” Martin said. “It looks like it’s going to be another great season.”