Sugarmakers hopeful for a good crop despite late season

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(Host) Vermont’s maple sugarmakers are keeping a close eye on the weather this week.

The season is starting late, and they’re hoping for that magic combination of warm days and cold nights to trigger a good run of sap.

VPRs John Dillon reports on a very strange year in the sugarbush:

(Chopping sound)

(Morse) “Big old trees have coarse bark. Sometimes you just have to knock a big piece of bark off.” (drilling noise as he makes the tap hole)

(Dillon) On the first day of spring, Burr Morse is setting the last of his taps. The red squirrels chattering over head don’t seem to like the intrusion.

(Sounds of working, mixed with squirrel chattering)

(Morse) “The squirrels down there are kind of upset with what we’re doing.” (tapping sound)

(Dillon) At the Morse Farm Maple Sugarworks in East Montpelier, the big, bonnaza run of sap has not yet started.

(Morse) “We’re right at the beginning and I’m not worried at this point, because my birthday is March 16th and we always said at least half the years we would not have made syrup by birthday. But that was olden days. And now you have to wonder how long we’re going to get into April with sap weather. If it gets on much later at all we’ll probably have to write it off as a short season, but sometimes if it gets busy enough you can make a full crop of sugar in two weeks.”

(Dillon) This has been a roller-coaster year for Vermont maple. Some sugarmakers caught a huge run in January by setting out their taps extremely early, when temperatures were spring like.

Then the cold hit, and the deep snow. The sub-zero temperatures have taken their toll on the vacuum equipment that Morse and others use to get the sap out of the trees. And the snow has made the roads in the woods impassable and buried the pipelines that most sugarmakers use.

Bruce Martell, a maple specialist at the Agency of Agriculture, says it too early to predict how the season will turn out.

(Martel) “It is late but it’s never, with maple, too late. Because it’s all weather dependent it can come off, it should be coming off well towards the end of this week. And if the conditions are right a lot of syrup can be produced. But the season is late compared to the usual season for maple production.”

(Sounds of children)

(Dillon) At the Morse Farm Maple Sugarworks, a group of young children get a tour of the sugarbush.

But they won’t have to wait for that sweet taste of sugar on snow. The Morse’s have plenty left over from last year.

For VPR News, I’m John Dillon in East Montpelier.

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