Syrup Season

The severity of this year’s winter has left maple syrup production at an all-time low, but syrup farmers were still optimistic during Maple Weekend.

Maple Weekend, which started Saturday, continues today and will be repeated again next weekend, is an annual event hosted by the Upper Hudson Maple Producers Association and other regional organizations to promote the industry. During the event, New York maple syrup farms allow visitors to tour their facilities and watch them produce the sweet concoction.

On Saturday, Ephratah-based Mud Road Sugar House only produced a little more than nine gallons of maple syrup. Last year, the Sugar House produced nearly 500 gallons of syrup within the same one-day time period.

D.J. Duesler, co-owner of the facility, said the harsh winter and lingering cold temperatures have hurt maple syrup production this year.

“The weather hasn’t really cooperated,” Duesler said. “We’re looking for cold nights and warmer days; unfortunately we’ve had cold nights and cold days. I don’t know why it’s so cold, but it’s cold.”

Duesler said in order for the syrup production to run smoothly and generate the gallons it normally does, the weather will have to gradually warm up.

“I’m hoping that once it warms up it’s a gradual warmup; I don’t want it to go to 50 degrees and stay at 50 degrees,” he said. “All I can do is hope for a gradual warmup now. Usually by this point in the normal season you start to worry about it warming up too fast. If it warms up too fast then the sap just won’t run, it’ll shut off. That’s out of my control.”

He said the optimal temperatures for the sap to run would be daily temperatures in the 40s and nightly temperatures in the 20s. Duesler said he understands that the weather is out of his control, but if it cooperated with the syrup season then the outcome would be sweet.

“If we can get that weather then we’ll be good, but if we have temperatures all over the place it won’t help, but that’s what farming is all about. Mother Nature, if she doesn’t give you the weather that you need, you aren’t going to get any product,” he said.

Duesler’s been working with his father, Vern Duesler III, at the Sugar House since he was a child. Vern started the business with his grandfather in 1965.

“I was 12 years old, I had 35 [maple syrup] buckets and I sold the sap for two cents a gallon to another syrup producer; that’s how it all started,” Vern said.

D.J. Duesler said he really became interested in production when he came home from college and started working more with Vern. Vern asked D.J. to start boiling the syrup himself five years ago.

D.J. said the Sugar House has “evolved” over the years. There are six buckets, he said, but most of the taps are on pipelines. The Sugar House has the tap capacity to produce 600 to 700 gallons of syrup annually.

“This year, however, might be a different story,” he said. “We’re just hoping we can generate some syrup.”

At Peaceful Valley Maple Farms on LaGrange Road in Johnstown, the syrup situation is similar.

Barbara Kirk, co-manager of Peaceful Valley, said her son and co-manager Stephen Savage only boiled 50 gallons of syrup on Saturday. Last year, the farm produced 1,500 gallons of syrup in the same period of time, Kirk said.

“This is terrible compared to last year,” Kirk said. “It’s just been too cold. We need those warm days and freezing nights. We need a cycle so that the syrup will run, and so far it’s only run a little bit.”

She said that this year’s production has been the worst she’s seen in the 28 years the farm has been in business.

However, Kirk said that she’s hopeful the weather will change.

“We’re always hopeful, but this is agriculture, and you have to be realistic,” she said. “Sometimes the weather just doesn’t work in your favor.”

Even though the weather hasn’t changed in a positive direction for the maple farmers, Kirk said she hopes people still support the production.

“I love this business,” she said. “Maple is a completely pure product; there’s nothing added to it. I get so much satisfaction producing and selling a product that came straight from our backyard to the public. Locally grown and locally sold, nothing beats that. Tradition needs to be kept somehow and that’s what the maple syrup business does.”

Maple Weekend will continue today and next weekend at Mud Road Sugar House, Peaceful Valley Maple Farms and Fraiser’s Sugar Shack in St. Johnsville.