There were a few drops in the bucket at last week’s ceremonial first tree tap, but it might have just been the rain. Still, the weather that morning did nothing to dampen spirits at Friday’s event, which featured a hearty breakfast laden with the sweet stuff, as producers and politicians celebrated the region’s maple syrup season, already well underway.
This year’s ceremony was held at Snyder Heritage Farms.
“The season’s just nicely started. I’d say we’re like a week in to the season and it usually lasts six weeks,” said Terry Hoover, past president of the Ontario Maple Syrup Producers’ Association (OMSPA) and current president of the association’s Waterloo-Wellington local, who spoke at the ceremony.
The winner of the best maple syrup award was also formally announced at the event, with the Elmira Maple Syrup Festival committee going with Cleon Weber of Riverside Maple Products. The Wallenstein-based producer has the especially sweet distinction of unseating the winner of the past two years, Maple Tap Farms.
Weber, for one, is convinced his syrup really is the best out there – and he would know. The syrup producer practically grew up in the sugar bush, and had the trade passed down from his father, who also tapped trees.
“But I think there’s not many people producing syrup that don’t think they have the best,” he added modestly.
As is customary with the award, Weber’s Riverside Maple Products will be the exclusive provider of syrup at this year’s Elmira Maple Syrup Festival on April 7.
For the third year in a row, the maple syrup season came ahead of schedule, with most farmers tapping their trees early last week. So the first tap was really more of a last tap; but with the syrup already flowing nicely and the weather holding steady, nobody was complaining.
“Maple syrup is the first crop of the year, so we always have that ceremonial first tap into a tree to kick off the season and get everybody thinking about, ‘hey, head out to a sugar bush.’ I mean it’s that time of year to get going,” said Hoover.
“This is very significant for the Ontario syrup tapping community, the syrup business, because the syrup’s running,” said Kim Dixon, chair of the Elmira Maple Syrup Festival committee. “It means they’re going to have good syrup, the weather’s right, and it signifies everyone’s tapping now.”
Speakers at the first tap pointed out the economic value of the maple syrup industry to the region and the province. But there was more to the tap than just dollars and cents, noted Kitchener-Conestoga MP Harold Albrecht, who was in attendance.
“Just the social benefit, like look what’s happening here. Look what happens at the Elmira Maple Syrup Festival. People getting together, the volunteers that staff that thing, and then the support they give to many of the local charitable organizations. You can measure it in dollars, but it goes so far beyond just the dollars,” said Albrecht.
Despite the season coming early, Hoover notes that the weather has been great for producers.
“It’s been perfect for syrup production, but I wish we had two feet of snow on the ground,” he said, adding that producers need a combination of cold and warm weather to produce the perfect maple syrup.
“The snow holds the cold in the ground and it prolongs the season,” he explained.
“When the buds come out, we’re done. Like once the buds pop, we have to quit because it makes a ‘buddy’ syrup – it’s really foul tasting. So if we get five-six days of really warm weather, 60-degree weather, it will pop the buds out. Whereas if there’s two feet of snow in the bush, and we get a week of 60-degree weather, we don’t care because it melts all that snow away and the buds don’t start growing.”
But the weather, for the time being, has been cooperative. And while it was a little too chilly last Friday to get the sap going, Hoover assures us the warm spell the following day had the tap flowing like “gangbusters.”