Geauga County OSU Extension
The production results from The USDA NASS Survey were published on June 9th. For Ohio the numbers were an improvement over 2016, but not by much. This year Ohio Produced 80,000 gallons, an improvement over the 70,000 gallons produced last year. Once again 75% of the producing states improved their production and for some it was a major improvement. New York and Maine each added close to 50,000 gallon to last year’s production. The nation’s leading producer of maple syrup is no surprise, Vermont. Vermont is in no danger of losing its crown; production was once again just under 2,000,000 gallons. Finishing out the top 5 were New York with 760,000 gallons, Maine with 709,000, Wisconsin with 200,000 and New Hampshire with 154,000 gallons. Ohio continues to slide in its ranking to a disappointing 9th place. However, Ohio producers did increase production over 2016 by 10,000 due to an early start. The earliest recorded start date in Ohio was January 1, 2017, 25 days earlier than 2016. The problem is that when you look at the average start date across the state it was February 11th. That was problem given the mild weather conditions we experienced in January. You also have to consider that the temperature reached 77degrees F at CLE on February 24th and the season ended early around March 16th. By comparison Vermont recorded their earliest start on January 1, their average starting date was February 24th and their average closing date was April 10th , that translate into 2 million gallons of syrup produced over a 3 month period. Both New York and Maine had similar scenarios.
There were not many changes in the weather pattern experienced in 2016. Weather, once again had a negative effect on production in the Buckeye State while the mild weather in the East boosted production in that region. Increasing tap numbers and warmer weather early in the season has allowed producers in that region to dramatically increase production. Climate change is definitely opening up opportunities to make syrup in the northern regions of states like Vermont, Maine and New Hampshire. Production is being expanded in regions that are at a higher elevation where traditional maple production was once hampered by steep slopes and short seasons. Now with the advent of vacuum and 3/16 tubing systems along with the trend toward early tapping, production has exploded in the form of huge 100,000 plus operations. Modern sugaring operations in the eastern states are not only big but they are efficient. The amount of Syrup per Tap in the big three has steadily increased and stayed around .300 gallons of syrup per tap. This has pushed the average syrup produced per tap in the United States to over .300 tap. This was an area where Ohio was once a leader but recently Ohio production has declined to .200 per tap. You can clearly blame, two poor production years in a row for this decline.
One final statistic that has shown a modest improvement over last year, but is still below 2015, is the number of taps recorded in the Buckeye State, showing only 400,000 taps in 2017. For anyone working closely with the Ohio maple industry this statistic is mind boggling given that expansion going on in sugar bushes across the state over the last 5 years. The only explanation for this is that a large portion of the syrup being produced in Ohio is going unreported. Another statistic that tends to cast suspicion on validity of Ohio’s maple production statistics is how Ohio producers choose to market their syrup. In 2015 44% of Ohio producers sold to the retail market. That number has dropped to 30% in 2016. At the same time the Bulk sale market share has gone from 32% in 2015 to 43% in 2016 ( note these numbers are always one year behind the current year). Look at the marketing trends of big three (VT, NY & Maine) you will see that in the areas of expansion and big production the largest percentage of their syrup is sold on the bulk market,46% in NY, 86% in Vt. and 93% in Maine. Now take a look at a state of Connecticut and you will see they sell over 50% retail. Makes you wonder how much syrup is actually being produced in Ohio and is being sold out the backdoor to eastern and western packers. If this true, it is sad, because the demand for maple syrup is on the increase in Ohio and the stores are flooded with Canadian and Eastern States syrup.
So what have we learned from the last several maple seasons and how can we improve our maple production? The one thing that is clear is that the last five years have not been normal seasons for producing maple syrup. 2017, 2016 and 2013 were all warmer than normal and if you wanted to maintain average production for your operation you had to start early to get the early runs. This was especially true in 2017. Even the Polar Vortex Years of 2014 and 2015 presented their challenges due to the extremely cold winters and late starts that we experienced. The fact is, when the weather is right make the move and tap the trees. In most cases you will never make up for production lost early in the season by trying to extend the season at the tail end. Another factor is syrup quality. It is much easier to make a quality product in the first half of the season rather than struggling to make quality syrup while battling warm weather and increased bacterial contamination at the end. Hopefully 2018 will be a banner year for Ohio Maple producers, we are long overdue for a good one.