Maple Syrup Season Impacted by Mild Winter

By Vickie Frantz, AccuWeather.com Staff Writer
5/30/2012 11:50:38 AM

Maple syrup photograph courtesy of maple syrup producer Scott F.

Early warming in March cut the maple syrup season in New Hampshire short.

Bodie Peters, President of the New Hampshire Maple Producers Association, said, "We had a mild winter with not a lot of snow in New Hampshire. At the start of the sugar season at my house, the ground wasn't even frozen and the snow wasn't even up to the tops of my boots."

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), at the Bow, N.H., snow reporting sight, there was only 0.50 of an inch of snow on the ground as of March 14, 2012.

The snow ground cover for the same date last year at Bow was 17.5-inches.

"Temperatures for the cities of Concord and Manchester, N.H., were 9 degrees above normal for the month of March", said AccuWeather.com Senior Meteorologist Alex Sosnowski. "Temperatures across much of New England were between 8 and 12 degrees above normal."

The right weather is crucial for the maple trees to produce the sap used to make maple syrup.

These snow maps show the snowcover in the northeastern U.S. on March 14, 2012 (left) and March 14, 2011 (right). On March 14, 2011, there was 17.5 inches of snow on the ground in Bow, N.H.

Ideally, a very cold winter will put the maple trees into a dormant state. During this time, the sap is stored until the spring when it will flow from the roots of the tree to carry water and nutrients to the rest of the tree.

When winter begins to change to spring, maple syrup producers look for nights below freezing and days with temperatures between 38 and 44 degrees, according to Chris Pfeil, owner of The Maple Guys in Lyndeborough, N.H.

When the tree warms above freezing, pressure builds up and causes the sap to flow out of the tree through tap holes. The maple producers collect the sap in a bucket. Once they collect enough, they either boil or evaporate the sap to remove the water, leaving the sugar. What remains is the maple syrup, according to maple.dnr.cornell.edu.

"This winter, the sugar content in the sap was only 1.5 to 1.5 percent. Normally, the sugar content is 2.5 percent," said Bodie. "As a result, the syrup producers needed 65 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of maple syrup. Normally, it would take about 40 gallons of sap."

At night, when the temperature goes below freezing, some of the sap in the tree freezes. This process helps to create suction in the tree. The suction causes water to be drawn up from the roots. The water helps to replenish the sap.


Maple syrup being boiled in an outdoor boiling kettle. Photo courtesy of Betsy Thigpen.

When the temperatures begin to stay above freezing, the tree sap stops flowing.

The maple syrup season usually runs from mid-February until mid-April.

"The temperatures for Concord, N.H., averaged about 25 degrees above average for March 18-23," said AccuWeather.com Expert Senior Meteorologist Brett Anderson.

Anderson added, "New daily record highs were set March 12-13 and 18-23."

"The sap flow was good during the third week of March," said Bodie. "The 80-degree weather during the fourth week of March shut the trees down."

Despite the lower-than-average maple syrup production this year, a major shortage is not anticipated.

"Canada had somewhat of a normal season, and last year was a good production year," Bodie said.

There could be some localized shortages at farm stands in Vermont and New Hampshire.

"People running the farm stands may have to go to other suppliers to get their syrup," said Pfeil. "If that happens, the price could go up a little."

The maple syrup producers are hoping for a better production year next year.