By Tom Collins
LAMBTON SHORES — A warmer-than-normal winter was threatening to produce a poor maple syrup yield this year until a late cold snap revived the flow of sap.
Bill Vandenberg, whose son Ryan owns Ryan’s Sweet Maple at Lambton Shores, said the cold weather snap at the end of February and early March got the sap flowing again. On March 7, the farm made just under 400 litres of maple syrup, the second-highest amount ever in a 24-hour period for the farm.
“We had a tremendous run,” said Vandenberg, estimating the farm made about 10 per cent of this year’s crop in that one day. “It was almost a gusher all day. We made a fantastic amount of syrup.”
The farm had made about 92 per cent of its average annual maple syrup yield by March 8. He estimated at least an average yield once the season was over.
The warm winter meant the sugar content was low enough that it took about 55 litres of sap to make a litre of syrup, up from the usually 40 litres. However, the quality has been excellent, said Vandenberg.
Producers say the sap flows best when it’s — 5 C at night and 5 C during the day. Trees produce maple syrup until the warm weather causes them to bud, leaving producers with a small window of opportunity. This year’s warm winter — at one point in February it was 20 C in the day and 12 C at night— had many producers worried as some of the trees started to bud.
“There is that impression out there that there is a short crop,” said Vandenberg. “But you have to remember that call was made in February, which is often early to call the crop. It’s like growing a crop of soybeans and writing the crop off,” in August.
Don Giffin, of Giffin Maple Products in Blenheim, told CTV News Windsor in February that he didn’t tap his 3,000 trees because the winter was too warm. Giffin also told the Stratford Beacon Herald that the warm weather had stopped all production.
That call didn’t sit too well with some producers. Nelson McLachlan, of the Fort Rose Maple Camp in Parkhill, said the day after the CTV story, his phone was ringing off the hook from customers wondering if it was worth visiting his pancake house if there was no maple syrup. McLachlan started tapping Jan. 21, and by March 6 had 65 to 75 per cent of a normal yield.
“You’ve got to throw the calendar out the window this year,” he said. “Generally, the month of March is your main production month. Last year, we tapped on Feb. 1 and we could have been making syrup in January. This year, we saw the same weather pattern coming. We started tapping on the 21st of January and we were making syrup on the 23rd of January.”
McLachlan said many producers in his area will make about 70 per cent of a normal crop, which is enough to supply most of the retail market but not enough for the wholesale market.
Devin Jakeman, of Jakeman’s Maple Farm in Beachville, said he too expected an average yield.
“It looked like it could have been a short season,” he said. “It looked like the buds were coming out and the season was going to end, but the cold came.”