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Maple syrup boom bypasses Cortland

Leah Custer taps maple trees off Keith Road in Cuyler in this 2015 file photo. Maple syrup production hit a record high in New York, partly because of an increase in the number of taps and partly because each produced more sap. However, a warm spell in March cut Cortland County’s maple season short.

File photo

Leah Custer taps maple trees off Keith Road in Cuyler in this 2015 file photo. Maple syrup production hit a record high in New York, partly because of an increase in the number of taps and partly because each produced more sap. However, a warm spell in March cut Cortland County’s maple season short.

Maple producers expected a sour year for 2016. Instead, they set a record for syrup production.
Except in Cortland County.

“We were just about average,” said Randy Ensign of Marathon, whose family produced a bit more than 300 gallons. “Maybe a bit below average.”

New York’s producers topped 707,000 gallons of syrup, up from 601,000 in 2015. That came as they expected to produce maybe 450,000 gallons.

“Unfortunately in your neck of the woods, it did turn out to be a poor season,” said Helen Thomas, executive director of the New York State Maple Producers Association. “Everybody else did well.”

A March warm spell had the entire state nervous about the sap run ending early, but in the end, only Cortland County and trees farther south lost production, Thomas said.

“The hot spell did us in,” Ensign said Tuesday. “Once it gets that bud flavor, we’re done.”

“Our season was great, but it was very unusual,” said Dan Weed, owner of Schoolyard Sugarbush in New Hope. “I’m not going to say it’s the best we’ve ever had.”

Around the state, he said, producers who waited to tap their trees lost out because of the warm spell in March, Weed said. He started his taps in January. He met his goal of 300 40-gallon barrels for the season, but said that was because he added taps.

“Our production was the largest we ever had,” said Thomas, who runs a farm in Western New York. And that production was mirrored across most of the Northeast and into Canada — Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine. Parts south, including Pennsylvania and Ohio, did worse.

Two factors account for the17.6 percent increase in New York:

l The number of taps statewide increased 8.9 percent to 2,515 from 2,310 last year.

l The yield per tap increased 8.1 percent to 0.28 gallons per tap from 0.26 gallons per tap.

In fact, that’s why Ensign did as well as he did, he said. The family added more taps, but saw a lower yield per tap.

The season started unusually early — Jan. 7, according to the National Agriculture Statistics Service. It ended May 13, with tap runs averaging 36 days, longer than previous years.

“It was erratic — really up and down — but overall it turned out to be OK,” Thomas said.

Across the Northeast, production was up 27 percent, the statistics service reported, to 3.8 million gallons from 3 million. Vermont, already the nation’s No. 1 syrup producer, turned out 2 million gallons, up 41 percent from 2015’s 1.4 million gallons.

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