Three weeks before Maine Maple Sunday, the statewide syrup industry’s annual promotion, employees at Jan Goranson’s farm in Dresden weren’t collecting sap, but filling boxes for customers of their community-supported agriculture program.
Like many other maple syrup producers in the state and region, Goranson Farm, on River Road, hasn’t made any syrup this year because of lingering cold. Last year, they started making syrup in February.
Maine’s maple syrup season, which normally begins in late February or early March and lasts between four and six weeks depending on weather, could lag slightly this year. However, those in the industry are optimistic it will start at close to a normal time.
Goranson wants at least 150 gallons of syrup — requiring about 6,000 gallons of sap — by March 22 and 23, the weekend of the statewide promotion. In 2013, the state said roughly 100 sugar houses participated, many of them offering free syrup samples and demonstrations.
“We talk about it a lot and try to stay positive,” Goranson said Monday. “We’ve got to hope we make it.”
However, slightly late starts aren’t unprecedented. In 2011, for example, the state’s season started on March 10, according to data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The best conditions to collect sap are when temperatures alternate between above freezing in the daytime and below freezing at night.
When trees warm in the daytime, internal pressure builds and sap, which is boiled down to create the syrup, flows. But there haven’t been many warm days here lately. The National Weather Service doesn’t expect high temperatures in Augusta to get above freezing until Friday.
“Everything’s ready,” said Mike Smith, who said he hasn’t tapped any trees at Mike’s Maple House in Winthrop. “Just waiting on Mother Nature.”
But Kevin Brannen, vice president of the Maine Maple Producers Association, an industry group, isn’t panicking. Operating out of Smyrna, a town about 14 miles west of Houlton in Aroostook County, he’s used to slower starts.
At his farm, Spring Break Maple and Honey, Brannen said sap is usually boiled around March 17, well behind the rest of the state because of the colder climate. This year, he’s heard of more Aroostook-like conditions in other areas of the state.
“The weather patterns have shifted a little bit this winter and that’s made it a little different for some of them,” he said. “We normally strap our snowshoes on and go do it.”
Still, Brannen said the season will likely be normal. He said some trees may get tapped this week.
On Wednesday, Gov. Paul LePage is scheduled to tap a maple tree on the Blaine House lawn in the state’s annual — albeit unofficial — season kickoff.
The state is also expected to release the findings of an economic impact study on the industry that day. In 2013, the USDA said Maine was the country’s third-largest producer of maple syrup, making 450,000 gallons for 14 percent the domestic supply.
Only Vermont and New York produced more. The Canadian province of Quebec makes the majority of the world’s supply.
Vermont’s season started about on schedule in February, reported WCAX, a Burlington CBS affiliate. But cold weather is affecting other states’ seasons, especially in Connecticut, where the Associated Press reported in February that producers had just started tapping trees. The season there typically starts in late January.
Maine’s season isn’t that far behind, at and least one central Maine producer has had some luck so far.
At Bacon Farm Maple Products in Sidney, co-owner Shelley Bacon said they’ve boiled 600 gallons of sap down into between 10 and 12 gallons of syrup. She said that’s because one grove at the farm is inside a swamp, the bottom of which never freezes and is warmed quickly by small amounts of sunlight.
“It is a little cold, but looks like it’s going to turn out to be a fairly reasonable season,” Bacon said.
Morning Sentinel Staff Writer Kaitlin Schroeder contributed to this report.