After wrapping up the first batch of maple syrup last week at Bacon Farm in Sidney, Shelley Bacon said she is looking forward to a good season — even if colder temperatures have delayed production compared to the last few years.
“It is a little cold but looks like it’s going to turn out to be a fairly reasonable season,” Bacon said Monday as the farm boiled its second batch.
So far, Bacon said they’ve boiled 600 gallons of sap for 10 to 12 gallon of syrup at the farm. If the weather does warm up — the forecast calls for temperatures to get above freezing by week’s end — she said the considerable snowfall in the region will help with production by regulating the temperature of the 3,000 trees her farm has tapped.
“The snow pack definitely helps,” she said. “So, if it does warm up, it will help to chill those trees in the night.”
Maine’s maple season usually starts in late February or early March, lasting between four and six weeks depending on the weather. The best conditions for 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 flows.
The last couple of warmer winters allowed production start earlier in February for the region’s producers, but seasons like this aren’t unusual. In 2011, the state’s season officially started on March 10, according to data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
“The weather patterns have shifted a little bit this winter and that’s made it a little different for some of them,” said Kevin Brannen, vice president of the Maine Maple Producers Association, an industry group.
Operating out of Smyrna, a town about 14 miles west of Houlton in Aroostook County, Brannen said he is 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 due to the colder climate. This year, he’s heard of more Aroostook-like conditions in other areas of the state. Still, Brannen said the season will likely be normal.
A good season is important to the local economy. 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 made more.
In recognition of the industry’s importance to the state, Gov. Paul LePage will do the ceremonial tree tapping Wednesday at the Blaine House in Augusta, and is scheduled to release a report on the impact of the maple syrup industry on the Maine economy.
Maine maple syrup producers will join LePage for the annual event at the governor’s residence, which also serves as a prelude to March 23’s Maine Maple Sunday, when producers open up their operations to the public with tours and events.
In Madison, Maine Maple Products has just started production for the season. Office manager Eric Ellis said while central Maine syrup operations have started in past few years in February, this year will be more of a traditional start.
“You generally plan to be in operation the second week of March,” Ellis said. “We have had some early seasons in the last five years, but that’s certainly not the norm.”
The company has 80,000 trees north of Jackman and the syrup is transported in drums.
Maple producer Bob Davids, of St. Albans, said he planned to start production Tuesday and hopes this season will be a fruitful second year of commercial production. Davids joined with friends last year to turn his hobby of 30 years into a small commercial venture and is shooting for producing 100 gallons of syrup this year.
“Last weekend, conditions were right, sap ran,” Davids said. “Some small places I know had some sap running on Friday.”
Rick Matson, of Moonshine Maple Syrup in Farmington, said while making maple syrup means you’re at the mercy of the weather, being a part of the tradition is worth the risk.
Matson said it’s hard to predict this early in the season what he will end up producing from his 105 trees.
“If you ask what the season is going to be like,” he said, “the old timers like to tell me call me back in April.”
Kennebec Journal staff writer Michael Shepherd contributed to this report.Kaitlin Schroeder — 861-9252 firstname.lastname@example.org