If you look at the calendar, production at Meadow View Sugarhouse is right on target.
The Union, New Hampshire sugarhouse has produced 183 gallons of syrup this month–about a quarter of their annual crop — but owner Nick Kosko is not convinced that the calendar is a reliable predictor of production.
“A lot of producers are nervous,” says Kosko. “Things look good for the first week of March but we have no idea how this season is going to end up.”
Kosko has 21,000 taps and produces up to 1,000 gallons of maple syrup in a season. Most years he hits production goals but sporadic weather and the earlier arrival of spring have made sugaring uncertain.
“We could make [our production goal] but I’m not sure,” Kosko said.
New Hampshire producers have reasons to be concerned, according to Jim Fadden, president of the New Hampshire Maple Producers Association and sixth-generation owner of Fadden’s Maple Sugarhouse.
“We had less snow accumulation and an earlier warm up than past seasons,” Fadden explains. “On the sea coast [of New Hampshire] producers were making maple syrup in January; most years, the sap doesn’t start flowing until late February in that part of the state. If the trend continues, it’ll be the end of sugaring for the season in some parts of the state.”
An early warm up threatened to end the season for Jeff Moore of Windswept Maples.
Temperatures in Louden, New Hampshire, where Moore taps 8,500 trees, topped 60 degrees for almost a week in February, causing buds on the trees to swell. But, thanks to a recent deep freeze in the region, Moore believes the season will stretch into April.
“We’ve had years when we’ve just been getting started about now,” he eighth-generation sugarmaker explained. “This year, we’re halfway through our season already. Thanks to the freeze, the syrup quality is still excellent and the season should last a few more weeks.”
The weather is still cooperating in North Woodstock where Fadden is tapping thanks to the proximity to the White Mountains. As of the first week of March, Fadden has boiled just three times — but he knows other producers across the state have not been as fortunate and acknowledges things could change overnight.
“The whole thing is driven by Mother Nature; she’s the one in charge,” he said. “The producers have no control.”
Many producers blame climate change for unpredictable seasons. Extreme temperature fluctuations and earlier springs cause sap in the maple trees to run earlier, which also causes tapping season to end earlier.
“We don’t need to gather the sap at a certain time, we just need to be ready when it starts flowing—and we need the temperature to stay cold long enough to get a good run,” says Moore. “The difference between a below average season and a great season can come down to four or five days.”
In addition to the seasonal shifts decreasing yields for some producers, the early emergence of buds affects syrup quality.
“The buds seem to open earlier every spring and once that happens, we’re done,” Kosko said. “We could still tap but we’d get buddy-flavored syrup that is not table quality.”
Despite the challenges, Kosko remains optimistic.
“Based on what we’re seeing right now in the woods, I’d be happy with an average year,” he said.