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U.S. Sen. Maggie Hassan visited Fadden's sugar house recently. From left are Jim Fadden's mother, Mary Fadden; his father, James Fadden Sr.; Hassan; his daughter-in-law, Kristyn; his grandson, Seamus; his son, James Fadden; his granddaughter, Brynn; and himself. (Courtesy photo)
By RICK GREEN, LACONIA DAILY SUN
LACONIA — Maple syrup producers love weather that dips into the 20s at night and hits the 40s during the day.
That's when maple sap flows best and producers can boil it down to make sweet syrup, said Jim Fadden, president of the New Hampshire Maple Producers Association.
“The cold gives the tree a chance to regroup and when it warms up the next day, they send a good flow of sap,” he said Tuesday.
But for much of this year, that ideal weather pattern has not prevailed. Final production figures will not be known for several weeks, but Fadden predicts an average season with overall numbers below last year's 169,000 gallons.
Fadden, 63, of Woodstock, a sixth-generation maple syrup producer, called this year's weather pattern “strange.”
Unseasonably warm weather led some producers in southern New Hampshire and in the Seacoast Region to start tapping trees in January before cold weather returned and shut off the sap flow.
Another warm-up came in February.
“It seemed like spring was here and we had some flow, but then, shazam, we were right back into below-zero temperatures.”
Just lately, the sap has begun to flow again, but the season is destined to end soon as low temperatures will rise above freezing and the trees will bud.
Fadden has 10,000 trees and is able to produce more than 3,000 gallons of syrup.
He said maple syrup season generally seems to begin earlier than it did years ago, but producers also have more technology at their disposal, including vacuum systems that can be more efficient at pulling sap from trees compared to the traditional gravity, drip technology.
“With a vacuum system, you have a consistent source of low pressure in the tubing,” he said. “Technology is playing a big part, just like ski areas benefit from snowmaking technology.”
Matthew Swain of Heritage Farm in Sanborton also called it a strange season.
“It was unusual to have it so warm in February, and then for it go so cold,” he said.
Some producers tapped their trees in time for the early-season run, but that can lead to other problems as trees that are left tapped too long can heal and the flow can be obstructed.
“You only have a short window from when you tap the trees to when they heal up,” Swain said.
He was too late to catch the earliest part of the run, but he was ready by Feb. 24, when temperatures were in the 60s in some parts of New Hampshire. Across the nation, it was the second warmest February on record, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Then, came a bitterly cold March that froze Swain's evaporator.
In a typical season, the syrup would start out light and gradually become slightly darker. This year, some producers missed out on the light syrup phase and their first syrup was slightly darker than usual.
“We were getting the mid-runs instead of the first runs,” Swain said. “The syrup was amber to dark robust.”
He thinks that when the season concludes, his production will be average.
“We should end up with 500 gallons,” Swain said. “We're happy, but it seemed like a long season, a long go, with a lot of storms, cold weather in between and a March that was colder than February.”
Gary Keough, the U.S. Agriculture Department's statistician for New Hampshire, said a full report on this year's maple production is expected in June.
Vermont leads the nation in maple syrup production, followed by New York, Maine, Wisconsin and New Hampshire. Canada is the top maple syrup-producing nation in the world.
Jim Fadden is a sixth-generation maple syrup producer in Woodstock. He has 10,000 trees and produces more than 3,000 gallons of maple syrup a year. (Courtesy photo)
Money from state for pensions, Gunstock revenue at issue
By MICHAEL KITCH, LACONIA DAILY SUN
LACONIA — While seeking to forestall any increase on the property tax burden without further depleting an already shrunken fund balance, the Belknap County delegation has written a budget that by projecting revenue that will not be collected, has increased the risk of one or the other.
Rep. Marc Abear (R-Meredith), the principal architect of the budget, flatly declined to comment on the revenue projections.
The Belknap County Delegation has estimated revenues in the budget that include $290,810 representing an anticipated contribution from the state toward the employer contributions to the New Hampshire Retirement System to fund the pensions of county employees. These funds are unlikely to be forthcoming.
Moreover, the delegation inflated the anticipated contribution from the state by assuming it applied to all county employees. But, since the county employs no school teachers, it would have applied only to members of the Sheriff's Department and Corrections Department. County Administrator Debra Shackett calculated that that if the state were to contribute 15 percent funded, the county's share would only be discounted by $75,000, not $290,810.
Meanwhile, the delegation also appears to have overestimated the revenue it expects to receive from Gunstock Mountain Resort. When the current Memorandum of Understanding between the county and resort expired, the delegation asked for $100,000 in negotiating its renewal, but included $175,000 in revenue in its 2017 budget, leaving a shortfall of $75,000.
The delegation could acknowledge its error and submit revised revenue estimates to the New Hampshire Department of Revenue Administration before it begins the process of setting the county tax rate in September. Shackett has calculated that correcting for the shortfall in revenue would increase that the budgeted amount to be raised by property taxes from $12,963,440 to $13,329,250, an increase of 2.74 percent.
Alternatively, by state statute, RSA 21-J:35, IV, provides that if, in the course of computing and setting the county tax rate, the Commissioner of Revenue Administration "finds that the estimated revenues included are inaccurate or inappropriate he shall adjust the estimates in question" and notify county officials of the changes.
Without changes to the revenue estimates, the county could end the year with a revenue shortfall that would reduce the money on hand. The fund balance stood near $3.4 million at the end of 2016. The delegation's budget applies half of that against property taxes in 2017. With a further reduction reflecting the revenue shortfall, the fund balance could dip to near $1.3 million. Shackett projects the tight operating budget will leave scant surplus to replenish the fund balance at year end. She has projected that with minimal operating surpluses, continuing to apply $1 million or more to county property taxes, the fund balance could shrink to less than $1 million in 2018 and 2019.
Moody's Investor Services has pointed to annual appropriations from the fund balance to balance the operating budget among the major fiscal challenges facing the county, and weighing on its credit rating. At the same time, without a stable and robust fund balance in the neighborhood of $4 or $5 million, the county will lack the resources to stabilize county tax rates.