Going with the flow

Because of an early heat treat, maple syrup producers were forced to tap in early if they wanted to do their pancakes proud. According to a spokesman for the Michigan Maple Syrup Association, this was the earliest sap season on record, and many producers came up empty.
Marie Havenga
Apr 17, 2012

“With this wacky weather, it played havoc across the board,” said Russell Kidd, MSU Extension forestry educator and MMSA consultant based in Roscommon. “It came down to two things — did you tap when the weather told you to, or did you watch the calendar and say 'it's too early'? If you went by the calendar, you missed out.”

Robinson Township syprupers Larry and Ruth Horton took a break from the sugar shack this season.

“We didn't do any this year for several reasons,” Ruth said. “Our helper died and we had some illness. We decided it would be a good year to take off. Maybe we'll be back next year.”

Ruth said from what she's heard, it's been “a really poor season” for syrup due to the weather.

“We have to have 45-degree days and freezing at night," she explained. "It was just too warm, too early. The trees budded out real early. When the trees bud out, the sap is sour. I don't know about the Upper Peninsula, but the Lower Peninsula was really bad.”

Kidd said the official results won't be in until early June — but from reports he's hearing, this region reported between 50 and 60 percent of normal production. Northern Lower Michigan sapped out at 35 percent and the Upper Peninsula flowed at 50 percent.

Kidd estimates state volume at 50,000 to 60,000 gallons this year; compared to an average of 70,000 to 80,000 gallons, and a syrup-surging 123,000-gallon record in 2011.

“We won't be breaking any records this year,” Kidd said. “It stayed warm at night and the sap didn't want to run on its own. And once the buds start swelling, it doesn't matter what the temperatures are — you're done.”

City of Holland parks employee Rob Venner said his crew had to scramble in search of syrup this season. They tapped at the VanRaalte Farm on Feb. 18.

“We usually tap the first of March,” said Venner, director of the city's DeGraaf Nature Center. “If you didn't start tapping early this year, you lost your crop. When it starts to freeze and thaw is when you do your thing, and it was doing that in the middle of February this year.”

Sap subsided the first week of March, but Venner said this is the second-best production year in his six years — tapping more than 100 sugar maples at VanRaalte Farm, or 36 gallons; compared to a record 47 gallons last year.“

"It's the same crew — it's just the fact we started on time with the weather,” Venner said. “I heard about people who have been sugaring for 50 years, and they waited too long and got hardly any this year. You have to start when the weather tells you to start.”

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