•  Tom Phillips of Hardwick, N.J. boils on Tuesday, March 12 during a record breaking season, he said. Phillips is one of the few sugarmakers who have made syrup so far this season.

  •  Sugarmaker Tom Phillips of Hardwick, N.J. dumps a batch of syrup into the canner as wife, Barbara looks on during a boil on Tuesday, March 12. Phillips said he has made 90 percent light syrup so far this season, a flip flop from the past two seasons.

  •  The scene outside Tom Phillips sugarhouse in Hardwick, N.J. on Tuesday, March 12 during a boil. The 1,000-tap sugarmaker is one of only a handful that have made much of any syrup during this season so far.

  •  The first boil of the season on Monday, March 11 at The Maple News home sugarhouse in Hebron, N.Y., a start that was three weeks later than last year. Most of the Northeast has been idle until late this week.

  •  New York agriculture commissioner Richard Ball (far left) looks for a good tapping location at Friday's tree tapping ceremony for the Upper Hudson Maple Assn. in Argyle, N.Y. with owner Chip Schneible and Maple Queen Lauryn Streicher.

  •  New York agriculture commissioner Richard Ball and State Sen. Elizabeth Little, along with Maple Queen Lauryn Streicher wait for sap at the annual tree tapping ceremony for the Upper Hudson Maple Assn. at Schneible's Maple in Argyle, N.Y.

Season Update #4: Season slowly starts to wake up in Northeast

Some sugarmakers in southern areas doing well


HARDWICK, N.J. — The season is just starting to wake up in the Northeast late this week, while others in the southern areas of the U.S. Maple Belt are on a record pace.

“I’ve boiled 13 times already,” said Tom Phillips, who is boiling off 1,041 taps in Hardwick, N.J. and enjoying his best season ever.

“This year has been perfect temperatures,” he said.  “Here it warms up just enough to get a good run and then freezes up again.  

Phillips said most of his crop so far has been lighter grades of syrup, a flip flop from the last two years when it was all dark.

“I’ve made 90 percent light so far,” Phillips said on Tuesday during a tour for The Maple News.

Sugar content has been improving for Phillips too this season, above 1.7 percent which is a big jump over last year’s 1.1 percent average.

“The sap has been great,” he said.  

Phillips has been one of the few bright spots in the U.S. production so far.

In Vermont, sugarmakers were twiddling their thumbs waiting for a thaw, which only came on Wednesday.

“I’ve been getting plenty of sleep,” joked Jason Gagne, a 22,000-tap producer in Highgate, Vt.  “We’ve been done tapping for weeks.”

UVM Extension maple specialist Mark Isselhardt told The Maple News that producers should be prepared for a quick season this year.

“I think people are ready for a short and sweet season,” Isselhardt said.  

Isselhardt said sugarmakers should not be panicking over the late start to the season.

“A good season has everything to do with the quality of the sap runs,” he said.  “You can make a big portion of your crop in a week if your lines are tight.”

Gagne said the season is shaping up to be a more traditional start, with most “old-timers” going by the old start date of around Town Meeting Day, which is always the second Tuesday in March in Vermont.

“This is shaping up to be a more traditional kind of season,” said Paul Palmer of Jericho, Vt. 

Meanwhile, in the Midwest, some sugarmakers are saying the season has been a disaster so far and not looking good in the near future.

An abundance of cold and record snow depths are hindering tapping, no one has made syrup and some are wondering if the season will come at all.

“Our maple syrup season is in jeopardy,” said David Lindahl of Iron River, Mich. in the Upper Peninsula. 

“The winter in the U.P. of Michigan has been brutal. We’ve had almost records of snowfall, so in our bush the depth is at 45 inches," he said. 

Lindahl still has to put up all his tubing and with snow depths that high, he said he was worried if he could get the tubing installed in time.

“We’re on a take-down tubing system and right now with these snow depths I don’t think we’ll be able to install the tubing," Lindahl said. "So we might not have a season.”

 The Midwest was hit with yet another snowstorm and cold temperatures this week.

At the annual tree tapping ceremony on Friday for the Upper Hudson Maple Producers Association at Schneible Maple in Argyle, N.Y. producers were grumbling about the slow start.

"I had three weeks between boils and everything froze into a rock-hard chunk," said Michael Pauquette of River Run Maple in Granville, N.Y.

Michael Grottoli of Granville, N.Y. said the sap was just starting to run for him late this week.  He hadnt boiled once yet.

New York's agriculture commissioner Richard Ball tapped the tree in the front yard of Schneible's with owner Chip Schneible and Upper Hudson Maple Queen Lauryn Streicher.

The gathered crowd waited for a drip from the fresh taphole but nothing came.