October 23, 2021

Some maple producers tap trees earlier than usual this season

‘Mother nature controls it’

S.N. Briere/ staff reporter

Tim Custer, right, of Custers Maple in Cuyler, checks the maple sap during the evaporating process to make syrup, while his nephew Owen Custer stirs the liquid.

Some maple producers tapped early, some tapped around the same time they do every year.

Some maple producers said the season may end early for them, some said they think it will end about the same time as it did last year.

It’s all about the weather though, they all said.

“We don’t want a bunch of 70-degree temperature days with no freezing” at night, said Tim Custer, owner of Custer’s Maple Syrup in Cuyler.

He said the trees will flow well for a few days, but then not so much.

Custer said he actually tapped earlier this year around Jan. 15. Normally, the trees would be tapped toward the beginning of February.

One of the main reasons was because “we don’t get the snow in January anymore,” he said. “When you get the snow it’s twice as hard to do anything.”

The other reason for tapping earlier was his nephew Owen Custer was getting ready to head back to college. In fact, the Custers tapped early enough that they are already about three quarters of the way through making their syrup.

“Many producers in New York state tapped earlier than they ever have before,” said Helen Thomas, the executive director of the New York state Maple Association.

She said some producers even tapped in December and began making syrup by the end of the month.

“They took advantage of the fact that it was maple weather — warm days, cold nights,” she said.

Josh Ensign, owner of Ensign Family Maple, said they tapped in mid-January, which isn’t far off from when they normally tap.

Steven Boice, co-owner of Cooper Hill Maple in Marathon, didn’t tap until February first.

However, that’s even early for their company, he said.

Back when his grandfather was tapping — several decades ago — he wouldn’t have tapped the trees until the middle of February, Boice said.

“Weather patterns are changing for us,” Boice said.

That change could impact how long producers tap for, the flow of the sap and even the gallons produced.

Ensign said they normally make about 25% of their crop in January but they didn’t get any in January and hardly any in February. It is flowing well now though, he said.

But Ensign said it’s hard to tell how long the season will last this year.

“If the forecast remains the same, we’re going to be down,” he said. “Normally we make syrup into the first week of April, I don’t see that happening this year. Mother Nature controls it.”

But it’s different for every producer. Boice said he’s right around where he needs to be for the season with about 300 gallon done of the on-average 600 gallons he makes every year. He said he expects to meet that average.

Meanwhile, the Custers expect to be above what they normally make. They tend to have around 4,500 gallons, said Tim Custer. However, Custer said they have already done 3,000 gallons and have a lot more to make.

The change in weather patterns hasn’t really affected the taste of the syrup either, they all said.

“Everyone has a different pallet,” Boice said. “Some will prefer a light flavor, others like a dark color and robust flavor.”