By Tom Collins
ILDERTON — Despite a longer-than-normal and colder winter shortening the maple syrup season, many Western Ontario producers will have above-average yields.
As of March 29, Rolling Ridge Maple Products at Ilderton, north of London was easily on pace for 1.5 litres of syrup per tap, said co-owner Joel Robson. An average year is 1 litre per tap. They have around 14,000 taps.
“We haven’t had much snow all winter, which is good and bad,” said Robson, who is also a cash crop farmer. “It’s hard on the winter wheat and a few other things, but it was probably one of our nicest tapping seasons because there was hardly any snow in the bush.”
His early-planted winter wheat was looking good, but the later-planted crop was looking thin because of the cold weather.
“We always say, a good maple syrup season is a lousy wheat year,” he said.
Maple syrup quality this year has been excellent, said Robson, with the majority of the syrup in the higher-grade amber golden classification.
There are about 3,000 maple syrup producers in Ontario, 700 of which are members of the Ontario Maple Syrup Producers’ Association (OMSPA). President Brian Bainbrough said Western Ontario producers were still boiling as of April 3, and despite the slow start, he projected an above-average yield with excellent quality in Western Ontario.
OMAFRA agroforestry specialist Todd Leuty said there has been lots of golden and amber syrup this year. While he said yields would easily get to the provincial average, he’s heard of some farmers getting as high as 1.7 litres per tap.
Chris Davidson, of Our Sugar Bush at Straffordville, south of Tillsonburg, had a late start, and only a couple of decent weeks of running sap. This year, he was done tapping his 1,100 taps at the start of March and the first boil was around St. Patrick’s Day.
There wasn’t much snow this winter — “anyone with a snowmobile was disappointed” — but the cold prevented the sap from running, he said.
Earlier tapping doesn’t necessarily mean higher yield, since ideal sap conditions are plus 5 C during the day and – 5 C at night. Last year, Davidson was done tapping in January and was boiling sap in February, and ended up with a below-average yield.
As of March 30, Davidson expected an average season this year thanks to some good runs.
“It’s wait and wait and wait and then all of sudden, (the season) is going to be gone,” he said, adding that quality has been good. “Our sign here that (the season) is done is the pussywillows are out, there’s a little yellow flower that comes alongside in the ditches and the frogs are croaking.”
It’s an average yield for Brian Palmer of Palmer’s Maple Syrup at Port Stanley, south of St. Thomas. He has 6,000 taps and said with the late start — he started boiling on March 12 instead of the normal end of February — time is running out.
“We’re just running out of days with the freezing and the thawing,” he said.