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Mild weather brings an early start to the maple syrup season

A mild winter has maple syrup producers tapping, boiling and bottling that liquid sugar earlier than ever before.

“The earliest I’ve ever boiled was the 22nd of February and this year we actually boiled on the 21st. But then last year ended up being a normal year, so Mother Nature’s a strange animal,” said Terry Hoover, president of the Waterloo-Wellington Maple Syrup Producers Association.

He says every year they tell the producers to be ready three weeks ahead and this season was three weeks ahead of schedule, so they ended up being a day late.

They need a good freeze-thaw cycle to freeze the trees at night and get the sap flowing during the day. Four days in a row of warm weather is a no-go for tapping.

“Everybody that I know of is done tapping. So that’s why we’re joking about changing the first tapping ceremony to the last tapping ceremony. Everyone is done tapping. Everybody in this region has probably had two or three good boils,” Hoover said.

But so far the sap seems normal. Usually a sugar bush averages between two and three per cent, but two years ago the first couple of runs were really watery, and they were only one per cent. This meant they had to do a lot of boiling to turn it into syrup, but this year’s crop seems normal thus far.

“If you do a good job boiling and all the equipment’s clean then the quality should always be good,” Hoover said.

He’s not sure how long the season will last for tapping, but according to Environment Canada we’re expected to have a cold March and April, so they could be boiling all the way into May.

The lack of frost right now is their main concern, however.

“Normally there’d be one or two feet of frost on the ground at this time of year and all your roads buckle and all that fun stuff. Well then if we get a week of warm weather we don’t care because that foot of frost, the trees don’t make the buds pop, because they’re not growing yet because the roots are frozen, whereas this year with no frost, if we get a warm spell we could be in trouble,” Hoover explained.

Dave Chapeskie, executive director of the International Maple Syrup Institute, says it’s still early in the season to assess what the 2017 season prospects are like, but the less than wintry weather could pose a problem.

“Southwestern Ontario and more southerly areas in the U.S. are starting to report because of the warm temperatures they’ve experienced in the early start up in some areas that it’s possible the crop will be not as good as in recent years, it could be impacted by the warmer weather patterns. That’s just preliminary predictions right now,” Chapeskie said.

He notes people who use buckets to collect sap, rather than tubing and vacuums would be hurt the most by the reduced sap flows.

“Those very warm temperatures, which are not conducive to sap flow, if they extend over a significant period of time they could hurt the sap runs and the production prospects. You want the frosty nights. Temperatures, the ideal pattern is something like five degrees above during the day time and minus-five during the nighttime.”

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