MASON, Mich.—Big equipment dealers are staying open during the Coronavirus crisis while trying to maintain a social distance.
“Open for business,” declared Sugar Bush Supplies in Mason, Mich. in a blast email to customers on Thursday.
“During this critical time of production, we want to be available to meet your supplies and equipment needs,” the store said. “At the same tome we are implementing all the prudent cautions necessary to protect you and staff from the COVID-19 virus.”
The national crisis shutting down America came during the peak of maple season, where producers were still running to dealerships for sugaring supplies and repairs.
“We are encouraging our customers to place their order ahead of time instead of waiting in our showroom,” said Benoit Pepin, USA manager of Lapierre Equipment, which operates a typically thriving store in Swanton, Vt.
Most dealerships were following the same protocol.
At Leader Evaporator, with a showroom in Swanton, Vt. and corporate stores in Rutland, Vt. and Holcombe, Wisc., the company vowed perseverance.
“We have committed to remain open to serve sugarmakers as long as it is practical and prudent to do so,” Leader’s president Jeff Smith told The Maple News.
CDL's multiple U.S. corporate stores are all still open as well, said David Lalanne, CDL's USA manger. But spring open houses not.
"All open houses in the USA have been cancelled," Lalanne said. "The one in Canada is still on the schedule for now. However, we will be coming out soon with special and spring prices!"
Producers are still making a crop and bringing it to bulk buyers.
Bruce Bascom, a major out-of-field bulk buyer in the U.S., said barrels are still coming into his facility in Alstead, N.H.
“Yes we are still taking in syrup,” Bascom told The Maple News on Thursday. “We have been getting a lot of syrup from smaller producers two weeks earlier than normal due to an early season.”
Most states in the southern areas of the Maple Belt are winding down a very good season, with at least 100 percent production there.
“The warmer areas in southern New York, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and Ohio have nearly 100 percent crop now,” Bascom told The Maple News. “Northern New York, Vermont and New Hampshire are 65 percent. It will end up a good crop I predict overall and perhaps a big crop. Eastern Quebec & northern Maine is 25 percent but still very early.”
Along the Golden Road in Maine, sugarmaker Martin Carrier was scrambling to get to his sugarhouse before the border closed, as per orders from the Trump Administration on March 18.
Like nearly all of the Golden Road producers, Carrier lives in Quebec and travels a short distance into Maine to make syrup.
Carrier and other producers rushed across the border into Maine on March 18 as soon as the announcement was made. As of Friday it will still unclear when the travel ban would officially go into effect.
“Even the officers at the border are unsure at this point,” Vi Carrier, Martin Carrier’s wife, told The Maple News on Friday.
Cancelations in the industry continue to mount.
Michigan and Wisconsin are the latest states to cancel their open house weekends, leaving virtually zero maple events left to be canceled in the U.S.
In Canada, the Ontario Maple Syrup Producers Association canceled their open house weekend on Tuesday, but stressed that syrup was still available for sale to the public.
“We are still making maple syrup and many of our members rely on the annual visit to the sugarbush to sell their product,” said OMSPA president Brian Bainborough. “Many of our producers are happy to make arrangements to ensure their product gets into the hands of their loyal customers in a way that’s safe for everyone.”
Despite the closures of Pennsylvania public schools and many businesses because of the threat of COVID-19, the 7th annual Maple Taste and Tour in Somerset County, Pa., on March 14 and 15 was still held as planned and ended up being well attended.
"Considering the circumstances, attendance was still steady," said Mike Lynch, who owns Baer Brothers Maple Camp in Somerset, Pa. "This event is contingent on the weather anyhow so this may not have been one of our camp's best years, when we had over 500 visitors, but for Saturday, we still had over a 100 people stop by."
The event is held every year in association with the Somerset County Maple Producers Association.
Most dealers are canceling their post season open houses, scheduled for late April and early May.
Bascom said his open house, usually the first week in May, would be canceled.
Leader, Lapierre also said their open houses in Swanton the last weekend in April were also canceled.
Pepin said perhaps Lapierre would reschedule in the fall.
“We don’t know when life will be come back to normal, so tough to plan something for now,” Pepin said.