From Mass. to Maine, maple producers tap trees as high temperatures cause early runs

A tap at in a sugar maple in April 2022. (Esta Pratt-Kielley/Maine Public)
A tap at in a sugar maple in April 2022. (Esta Pratt-Kielley/Maine Public)

With temperatures expected to reach the 60s in parts of Massachusetts this week, maple syrup producers are tapping their trees and are already seeing early sap runs — a month earlier than usual.

Winton Pitcoff, with the Massachusetts Maple Producers Association, said the weather is making the sugaring season unpredictable.

"The inconsistency is really the big change and where sugar makers used to know there was a three-week period — that's when they were going to make 75% of their crop for the year — now you're starting in January or early February," Pitcoff said.

A few members of the association are already making their first batches of maple syrup, according to Pitcoff.

Similarly, temperatures reaching into the 40s and 50s are driving an early season in southern and midcoast Maine.

A few maple producers in southern Maine began tapping their trees back in January, before last week's extreme cold snap.

Jason Lillley, with the University of Maine's Cooperative Extension, said in recent years, the maple season has been gradually getting shorter and starting earlier. And while brief warm spells in January and February are relatively common, the extended periods of warm weather this winter mean that southern Maine maple producers are out working a bit earlier than usual.

"All of these changing weather patterns and weather extremes are having impacts on the tree health. And we as a research community are trying to figure out how that impacts the long-term viability of the individual trees but also the industry," he said.

Scott Dunn, owner of Dunn Family Maple in Buxton, began tapping his trees earlier last week. He said it's taken a few days for the trees to thaw out from the extreme cold from the week before, but expected to see a light to moderate sap run over the weekend.

"Call it climate change, call it just anomalies, but it seems like the weather has been getting a little bit warmer. If you're not ready for the earlier sap runs you're missing part of your season. So by being ready for those, I mean producers are making 20% of their crop in January or February, which is a lot," he said.

Lilley said the conditions will not be right for some time for maple producers in northern Maine, where the season is usually at least one month behind the rest of the state.


This story is a production of the New England News Collaborative. It was originally published by Maine Public.

With reporting from WBUR's Amy Sokolow.

This article was originally published on February 13, 2023.



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