2011 maple syrup production way up in Vt. and other states

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BRATTLEBORO -- For the Corse Farm’s maple syrup production, 2011 was the sweetest year in nearly a century of sugaring.

The Whitingham farm surpassed its production totals with 4,881 gallons this season due in part to a cool February and March with no hot spells and a new sap collecting method. The largest production yield prior to 2011 was 3,409 the previous winter.

"This was our biggest year. We’ve tried for a long time to reach 4,000 [gallons], so to reach 4,800 was tremendous," said owner Roy Corse, who has one of southern Vermont’s most extensive sugaring operations with more than 10,000 taps.

The Corses use a reverse osmosis system through a complex tubing network which removes about 75 percent of the water from sap even before the boiling. During a maple tour in early April, they were producing up to 60 gallons an hour with the new Vermont-made Leader Evaporator with four pans and a system of external piping that Corse designed himself.

The gargantuan syrup totals from the Corse farm and others around the county helped Vermont remain the leading producer of liquid gold, a title it has kept since 1976. The Green Mountain State reached 1.14 million gallons of syrup, nearly double the amount of runner-up New York. Vermont surpassed 1 million gallons for the first time since the 1940s, yielding a 28 percent increase from 2010.

In total, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said the 2.79 million gallons nationwide topped the previous record of 2.40 million from 2009. Syrup production was up 43 percent. Vermont produced 41 percent of the total around the United States.

Hernan Ortiz, with the agriculture department’s New England field office, said the main factor for the excellent production season was the weather.

Temperatures from the Great Lakes to the Maine coast were reported as optimal for sap flow. Because of the ideal weather, sugar makers got an extra nine days to produce over 2010.

"The vast majority of producers reported favorable conditions, so that is the main effect. The season was prolonged because of the weather. The snow depth also helped the sap flow," Ortiz said.

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Seventy-nine percent of producers polled by the USDA reported favorable temperatures for sugaring, while only 18 percent said it was too cold. A lonely 3 percent said it was too warm.

"It’s mainly weather-related, you have to get the freezes and the thaws. We had a 10-day stretch and if it had been two degrees colder every night, we probably would have made a 62 percent crop," said Roger Evans of East Dummerston’s Evans Maple Farm According to Evans, he produced about 150 percent of the average state crop, or about 700 gallons in his case.

"It was definitively better than average. But back in the ‘60s and ‘70s when we had normal weather, that’s about what I used to average -- about three-eighths of a gallon per tap. The state average is a quart per tap," he said, noting it was just warm enough for a nice cycle. "That’s nature. Some years it works out for you, some years it doesn’t. That’s half the fun of sugaring, it’s the challenge of going up against nature."

While 2011 was a record-setting year for many farms, Cabot sugar maker Glenn Goodrich said the past season was an above-average, but not huge output.

"We were too cold for most of the season. The warmer locations in the Champlain basin and so on did very well. In the upper elevations, they did OK but not a huge season," said Goodrich, who serves as vice-president of the Vermont Maple Sugar Makers Association. Other states have well above-average production figures as well. New York recorded an 81 percent increase while Pennsylvania skyrocketed 137 percent for its largest production in state history.

Syrupmakers everywhere from Rust Belt states like Michigan and Ohio to New England’s smaller producers Connecticut and Massachusetts saw

major harvests. Maine sugar makers were collecting sap as late as the first week in May to lead the state into a 14 percent increase from 2010. But Vermonters remain convinced the best sugaring is done within their borders.

"Vermont’s soil is perfect for growing maple trees. We lay in the dead center of the maple range and so the climate, the soil, all of those conditions are favorable for maple trees to grow," Goodrich said. What separates Vermont is the state agricultural department, which has a very hands-on approach to maple syrup production and provides the necessary resources to obtain the highest quality.

"Here in Vermont, it’s the know-how as much as the climate," Goodrich continued. "It’s kind of an exciting time, our technology to gather sap is improving and the quality of syrup is improving. All aspects of it look very good."

The number of taps also jumped with the total production figures. An estimated 9.26 million taps (a 3 percent boost) were drilled into maple trees in 2011, which may have led to the yield-per-tap increase as well.


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