By Matthew Reitz
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo recently announced that maple syrup production in New York state reached its highest level in 70 years, allowing the state to retain its standing as the second-highest producer of fresh maple syrup in America. Local maple producers say they experienced a jump in production, despite a challenging winter.
“Once again, New York’s maple syrup industry is thriving and breaking records in spite of tough conditions,” Cuomo stated in a release.
New York state managed to produce more than 601,000 gallons of syrup from the more than 2.3 million taps across the state this season — the most in recent history. Timothy Whitens, a producer from Willow Creek Farm in Granby, said Cuomo’s announcement was “a pretty good parallel” to his production season.
“I had my best season ever,” Whitens said.
Whitens said he added about 600 taps this year, which also helped boost his production to about 1,025 gallons, up from 890 gallons last year.
Kim Enders of Red Schoolhouse Maple in Palermo said she also had a good season despite the difficult winter. Enders said the number of days she was able to make syrup was reduced due to the weather, but “when the sap did run it ran hard.”
“We had some really good days,” Enders said.
According to the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service, the amount of maple syrup produced in New York state increased over 10 percent from 2014 and almost 5 percent from the previous modern production record set in 2013. New York state remains the nation’s second-ranked producer of maple syrup, increasing its lead over third-ranked Maine by nearly 50,000 gallons. Vermont remains the nation’s top producing state.
This year’s production was the highest since 1944, which was the last year before the beginning of a long drop-off in the number of tree taps and the yield of syrup per tap in New York. State officials say the resurgence began in 2008 as vacuum pumping systems began to replace the hanging buckets and metal tree taps that had been used in maple syrup farming for centuries.
The New York State Maple Producers Association estimates that 60 percent of maple farms, including most of the larger farms with more than 500 taps, are now using vacuum systems to collect raw sap. The modern vacuum system is easier for producers to maintain, they say, which has helped increase production per tap.
Enders said about half of Oswego County’s producers use the vacuum systems to collect sap, and “there’s no comparison” between the vacuum systems and traditional methods. Whitens, who changed to the vacuum system in 2009, said it “saves a lot of energy and gives a good yield.”
New York’s brutal winter this past year included sustained stretches of low temperatures and heavy snow — conditions that made production particularly difficult, local producers said. As a result of the harsh weather, the USDA estimates that the average maple syrup collecting season in 2015 was just 26 days. By comparison, the previous record from 2014 was reached in an estimated 40-day-long season.
“This was pretty much a four-week season,” Whitens said. He said “the flows were slightly better than last year,” which allowed for a strong harvest, but he typically has a six- to eight-week-long season.
Helen Thomas, executive director of the New York State Maple Producers Association, said the organization was “pleasantly surprised and very pleased” to see a production record come out of such a short, difficult season.
By Matthew Reitz