The Maine Maple Producers Association, which represents about half of the state’s 580 licensed maple syrup producers, is recommending that all Maine Maple Sunday events scheduled for this weekend be cancelled because of concerns about the coronavirus. It’s the first time in the 37-year history of the event that it’s been cancelled, although organizers hope to reschedule it later in the year.

Sap drips from the spile that Gov. Janet Mills installed into a maple tree during a Maine Maple Sunday promotion event on March 10 at The Blaine House. The annual weekend of events has been postponed indefinitely.

“This is an extremely unusual circumstance,” said Kathryn Hopkins, a maple specialist with the University of Maine Cooperative Extension. “Mainers can cope with weather. They can cope with sleet. They can cope with snow. But the virus is different entirely.”

The association made the recommendation based on guidelines from the state and from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advising against large gatherings, said Scott Dunn, owner of Dunn Family Maple in Buxton and president of the Maine Maple Producers Association. Some maple syrup producers see only a handful of visitors on maple weekend, but others draw hundreds of people looking for pancake breakfasts, maple doughnuts, farm tours, and opportunities to interact with farm animals.

Many maple producers had expressed concern themselves about hosting so many visitors and the effect it might have on their own health, Dunn added.

Still, the ultimate decision whether to open sugar houses this weekend lies with individual producers, Dunn said. “The Maine Maple producers isn’t a regulating body,” he said. “We’re an organization that’s here to support our members and their maple syrup. So with that, we don’t meddle in one’s own personal business. But it’s our recommendation that they postpone their events.”

There’s no question the postponement means that maple producers will take a big financial hit, at least temporarily. The maple industry brings $27 million a year into the state, and at least half of that is from selling syrup and other maple products on Maine Maple weekend.

“Maine Maple Sunday is like our Super Bowl,” Dunn said. “For some producers, this is the majority of their sales, if not all of their sales.”

In a message to producers, the association said that producers who decide to hold their events regardless should take precautions, such as providing hand sanitizer and/or hand-washing stations and not letting staff or volunteers who feel unwell work the events.

Dunn said producers have been getting larger sap runs in the past week or two, but the unusually warm spring may make this a short maple season.

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