'Strange' maple syrup season drawing to a close


04-05 Faddens Sugar House

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.

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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)