EL PASO, Wisc.—Sugarmakers in the Upper Midwest were firing up what for many was the first time this week as temps notched upward, as a major bulk buyer proclaimed the region is out of bulk syrup from last year.
“I don’t have a barrel in the house,” said Peter Roth of Roth Sugar Bush in Cadott, Wisc. on Monday. Roth is one of the biggest syrup buyers in the state and was trying to dispel the notion that there is a glut of carryover syrup on the market from last season.
“The supply of syrup in the Midwest is non-existent,” Roth said. “I don’t see the surplus that everybody talks about.”
Roth told The Maple News that he came up short on filling some contracts last fall because he could not source enough syrup.
“I couldn’t fill all of my contracts from last year,” he said on Monday. “I could’ve sold more.”
“I challenge anyone to put together a trailerload of syrup,” he said. “It cant be done. It just isn’t out there.”
Roth who has a 16,000-tap operation of his own was collecting sap for the first time on Monday and expecting to make the first new barrels of the season to fill his warehouse.
Other sugarmakers were also out collecting sap for the first time this weekend.
“It’s coming together again for a good year,” said Steve Wood of El Paso, Wisc. during a cook on Monday afternoon.
The Wood family, with wife Dawn and sons Jason and John were enjoying their first major cook of the season as the trees just started to come to life this week. And just a little bit.
“We haven’t had a hard run yet,” Jason Wood said.
Wisconsin, the nation’s fourth largest maple state, typically runs from mid-March into mid to late April. So no one was too nervous about a late start.
Some good news was the high sugar content in the sap so far, a contrast to the low test sap sugarmakers in the Northeast have been seeing.
“Everyone is seeing high sugar,” said Corey Grape, a sugarmaker in Holcombe, Wisc. and manger of the Leader Evaporator distribution center there.
“It’s in the mid-to-high two percent range,” he said. “Even the vacuum guys are approaching two percent. And it’s early.”
“I’ve had three or four guys tell me its the highest sugar they’ve seen in years,” Grape said on Monday.
Meanwhile, in Cohasset, Minn., Ralph Fideldy, with wife Amy, son Troy and daughter Tiffany cooked for the first time on Saturday night and barely had enough to sweeten the pans.
“We made three gallons,” Fideldy said.
He has 3,000 taps out this year and is cooking for the first time on a new natural gas fired 4x14 Leader Evaporator.
In Barron, Wisc., the Hoff family got an early start in February but were still waiting for the big runs. The farm has 5,000 taps and takes in sap from another 3,000 to 4,000.
“We rarely cook before the 18th of March,” said Maynard Hoff, who hosted the Wisconsin Maple Syrup Producers Association annual tree tapping event on Saturday.
Hoff said he tapped on February 5, had cooked five times already but only made about 40 gallons of syrup.
Over in St. Joseph, Minn. sugarmakers Tom and Shelly Carlson, with son Ben, were collecting sap for the first time on Friday, March 16 and working the early season bugs out.
On Friday two belts on their milk pump gave out but were quickly replaced with extra belts on hand.
“We got lucky,” Shelly Carlson said.
The Carlsons have exactly 1001 taps out this year and were hoping to hit that elusive half-gallon per tap average this season.
“That’s what we’re shooting for,” Tom Carlson said.