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Maple syrup season is near

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Maple syrup producers are gearing up for what they hope will be a sweet season.

There have been several small sap runs during short thaws, with one enterprise in Canton already bottling nearly 100 gallons of syrup, but most producers are waiting for a more sustained blast of warm days and cold nights to start collecting sap and boiling.

“I’m thinking nothing much is going to be happening until after next weekend,” said Charles N. Hitchman, coordinator of the maple program for Cornell Cooperative Extension of St. Lawrence County. “I think it’s going to be a fairly good season.”

The start looks promising, with adequate snow to provide needed moisture as it melts. But only time and the weather will tell.

“Going into the season, things look good,” said Haskell A. Yancey of Yancey’s Sugarbush, a 5,500-tap operation in Belfort. “This is more what normal is, so hopefully we can have a normal or plus maple season.”

Mr. Yancey said he has heard of a few other Lewis County producers that have tapped already, but he won’t be doing so until after temperatures rise.

“Right now, we’re not anticipating bringing in help for the upcoming week,” he said.

While not getting an early start to the maple season, Mr. Yancey said that this winter’s heavy snow makes him more optimistic than other winters that were warmer and drier.

“You come in with a better feeling after this kind of winter,” he said. “Hopefully, we’re getting the cold weather now rather than two weeks into the season, like we had last year.”

Members of the St. Lawrence County Maple Producers Association are happy to trade what looks like a later start for a more protracted run, said Paul J. Hetzler, an Extension educator.

And, despite the pre-season optimism, Mr. Yancey said the key to a productive year, as always, will be “getting the right weather at the right time during the season.”

So much of what happens will depend on local conditions and microclimates.

“It’s hard to predict,” said Michael L. Farrell, the maple program coordinator for Northern New York and director of Cornell University’s Uihlein Forest in Lake Placid. “I have no projections.”

This winter’s long periods of frigid temperatures means it will take larger trees longer to thaw, he said. Some areas have deep frost, which could mean melting snow just runs off and tree roots will not be able to absorb it.

“It’s not necessarily going to infiltrate into the fields,” Mr. Farrell said.

Other parts of the north country, such as where snow is deep in the woods, have little frost in the ground.

Whether it will be a long season just because the start is expected slightly later than usual remains unclear.

“You never know,” Mr. Farrell said.

Charles A. Rutley, Rutley’s Maple Farm, Sandfordville, St. Lawrence County’s largest maple syrup producer, also steered clear of forecasting the season.

“At the end of April, I can tell you what my predictions are,” he said. “It is so variable. It can change so quick. It all has to do with the weather in the springtime.”

The only thing that is certain is that the sap will flow soon.

“It’s not far off,” Mr. Rutley said. “We’ve made sap before in February but the majority of the time it’s in March or early April.”

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