Early start to the syrup season

Tapping early this syrup season

Sugarmakers have begun tapping maple trees much earlier than normal due to the warmer weather.

Outdoorsman Kyle Johnson has been tapping maple trees as a hobby for around seven years, but this is usually not done so early in the year in the Twin Ports area. 

“Usually you’d be tapping about March anywhere between March 10th and the end of March or maybe even early April. So like, for instance, last year we had all that snow on the ground, so there was a good two feet of snow pack. I didn’t tap until March 22nd, but the flow was like a whole month later, you know, I’d have little drips here and there, but not until about April 20th was the sap flowing,” recalled Johnson. “The earliest aside from this was 2021, and it was kind of like right now where there’s not a whole lot of snow, just a couple of patches here and there. But that was March 5th, so that one would be the second earliest I’ve ever done it. February 21st, that’s pretty, pretty unprecedented.”

Further south in Langlade County, Wisconsin is a sustainable family forest that the Solin family has tapped syrup from for over a hundred years. Tapped Maple Syrup Co-owner Jeremy Solin has noticed how much the season has changed since he was a kid. 

“When I was growing up, we typically thought about tapping at the beginning of April,” said Solin. “Over the last, say, about ten years, we’ve been typically tapping in early to mid-March, and this year is the first year we’ve ever tapped trees in February.”

Being able to tap early is exciting from a hobby perspective

“It really signifies the change of the seasons, even if it is a little earlier right now,” said Johnson. “In a normal year, there’s still a lot of snow on the ground. The birds wouldn’t really be chirping. But you know, today at least, the sap’s flowing. So for me, it’s like a new time of the year. Everything’s starting to come alive again.”

From a business perspective, an early start to the season is worrisome. 

“So far it has been just shifting the timeline. The concern is if it warms up quickly and we don’t really have a season, which this year is kind of shaping up that way, where the long term forecast is pretty warm for the spring,” explained Solin. “We need the fluctuating temperatures between freezing at night and above freezing during the day. So as long as those conditions exist that the trees will run, we’ll get sap out of them. But if it does warm up too much, then that won’t happen or if the trees start to grow and bud out, then the season’s over.”

A shorter season here would mean a competitive disadvantage compared to places like Vermont and Canada. 

“Our entire business is based on production of maple syrup from a very short window in the spring. If we don’t produce as much maple syrup as we could sell, then we have some problems or run out of syrup and, and decrease our sales and have the potential to lose customers and things like that by not being able to provide products that they want,” said Solin.