For Ohio producers this was almost a normal season with the exception that it came a month early. This year’s long-range winter weather forecast was predicted to be long cold and snowy winter. In the NE that pattern prevailed due to a shift in the jet stream. This left Ohio, WV, Indiana and parts of Pennsylvania experiencing a rather mild winter. It also opened the door for some very good early maple syrup production in February. The month of March saw an early warming trend that quickly brought the maple syrup season to an early end across the region. Production across the state was all but shutdown by St. Patrick’s Day. Looking at my records over the last several decades St Patty’s day is circled in red because of the excellent runs occurring on or near that date. This is usually accompanied by snow and cold just prior to the event. After several years where late tapping resulted in poor seasons, producers across the Southern Tier of maple producing states have learned to adjust their tapping to the weather and not the calendar. This resulted in very good to excellent seasonal production across the region.
Examples of the excellent production can be found across the state of Ohio. James Miller at Sugar Valley Farm tapped 3200 taps in January and over the 4th and 5th of February he collected over 14,000 gallon of sap He set a personal best of 332 gallons of syrup. This pattern continued until the first week of march when the flow of sap stopped, and the trees dried up within a week due to a abnormally dry and warm period that lasted until the end of the month of March. With the early stat and despite the early shutdown James ended the season with over ½ gallon of syrup per tap. This was also the case for his neighbor The Gingerich Family. OMPA President Karl Evens reported 100% of a normal crop despite low sap sugar content. This was pretty much the story across NE Ohio. Down State producers reported Excellent maple producing weather in the month of February. In Central Ohio, Knox County, the Brown Family at Bonhomie Acres reported a near record Crop. Further to the south in Mt Vernon The Butcher Family set new production records, after several years with below average production. Reports coming out of the southern parts of the state report excellent production color and flavor. A large percentage of the syrup made from the south and the north graded Golden and Amber. The Flavor of first boils was superb. Low sugar between 1.3 and 1.6 was common this season in the north and in the south.
What can we learn from the 2020 season? First and foremost, weather forecasting is an exact science with a lot of room for error. The winter of 2019/2020 forecast for Ohio was about as far off as you can get. However, for parts of the NE it was spot on. Probably the single most valuable tool, a producer has to work with is experience. After years of experience making syrup you just develop a feeling, almost a sixth sense when it is time to tap. The worst thing you can do is to second guess yourself. Wait too long and you can miss crucial runs, tap to early and you may be headed for an early shutdown with a lot of season left. For sure, once you are in there is no turning back and you must make the best of it. From that point to the end of the season how you are utilizing modern maple technology will determine your level of success. Technology has become the equalizer when comes to maple syrup production.
Just as the maple syrup season was ending the Coronavirus and COVID-19 cast an ominous shadow across the Buckeye state and the rest of the nation, disrupting agricultural sales. Maple was not immune. Many of the traditional points of sale such as retail establishments, festivals and farmers markets were closed until further notice. Even though maple syrup was disappearing from the shelves of large grocery stores, giving the appearance of a maple syrup shortage, nothing could be further from the truth. For Small to medium size local producer’s it is difficult, if not impossible to tap into that mega supply chain. Many are worried that there will not be a market for their crop. Hopefully as summer approaches health regulations will be relaxed and maple producers will once again be able to market their products in traditional venues. Until then stay safe.