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Harsh Winter Expected to Harm Spring Maple Syrup Harvest
03/21/2014   Reported By: Jennifer Mitchell
Maine Maple Syrup sold here sign

Normally at this time of year, woodstoves across Maine are going full bore as sugarmakers boil sap, making the most of the cold nights and warm days of early spring. But this year the sap that normally flows in abundance is barely running at a trickle. And with Maine Maple Sunday right around the corner, the state's sugarmakers are realizing they might not have much to show this year.

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Harsh Winter Hurts Maple Syrup Listen
 Duration:
3:13

Back Ridge Sugar House in Winterport has a brand new, ten-thousand-dollar stainless steel evaporator.

Josh Knipping

Jennifer Mitchell: "Well, it's very echoey in there."
Josh Knipping, Owner, Back Ridge Sugar House: "Yeah, it's a big pan."
JM: "A big empty pan."
JK: "Yeah, I haven't even lit a fire in the thing yet. So it's, hopefully in the couple of days, I'd love to have some fresh stuff on the shelves for people on Maine Maple Sunday. But, you know, the machine itself, it'll take forty gallons just to fill the pans, and I have to have at least 400-500 gallons in storage just to run it for a few hours to put on a demonstration."

Knipping doesn't have 400-500 gallons of sap for that evaporator yet. The season has been slow, and his 500 taps are barely dripping. It's going to be awhile before that new vat starts paying for itself. But Knipping said he's still hoping to be able to fire it up to show visitors this Sunday, although he'll likely have to boil water.

"I don't know...it's almost kind of depressing in a way, I guess, but you know there's nothing we can do about it, we just have to take the good with the bad, and do what we can while we're able to and hopefully next year will pan out a little different," he said.

The good, he said, is that maple syrup is a 100% nature-made product. The bad? Well, nature decides when or if the season happens.

"This has been a very cold winter, we've had a lot of snow," he said. "We continue to have very cold temperatures- and a lot of snow."

Kathryn Hopkins is a maple specialist with the University of Maine Cooperative Extension. An ideal sugaring season, she said, consists of a long period of cold nights and sun-warmed days.

"You need night time temperatures about 20 or 25, and daytime temperatures around 40 or 45 for peak sap flow, and we haven't had that yet," she said. "We will have that, I think, as March continues and turns into April."

Sugarmakers like Len Price at Nutkin Knoll Farm in Newburgh are hoping for that. He doubts anyone in southern or central Maine will catch up to where they were last year, but he's also reluctant to play fortune teller.

"You know," he chuckled. "Ask me in May and we'll know what happened in early April and the rest of March."

Next week is again predicted to be pretty cold. So what does all this bad maple news mean for your pancakes? Probably not too much yet. Kathryn Hopkins of the Cooperative Extension said it's too soon to predict what prices will do. But if you want to buy fresh syrup, she said you will likely have to visit your local sugarhouse in April. That's OK with Josh Knipping. Sugarmakers are always happy to see customers. They were just hoping to see them on Sunday.

"I'd love to pack this place like I did last year, you know, 150, 200 people," he said. "We had a great time. They can see they steam coming out of the evaporator, and they can shake my hand, and they see where it's made, and who's making it, and the cleanliness of the place. It means a lot to me."

And, he said it's nice for the state to come together to indulge in a shared passion for all things maple and celebrate a traditional industry, even if the weather is a bit of a party pooper.

And if you're heading out on Maine Maple Sunday, you can check out the maple map at mainemapleproducers.com to find a sugarhouse near you.

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