As maple syrup producers in the Monadnock Region prepare to tap trees in the coming weeks, some say last year’s sugaring season was sweet while others faced stickier situations as New Hampshire yielded its highest volume of syrup statewide in six years.
Granite State producers generated no less than 167,000 gallons of maple syrup this past year, up from 127,000 gallons in 2021 and 154,000 gallons in 2020, according to data collected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service. In 2017, the number was slightly lower than 2022 at 160,000 gallons.
“There’s a lot of people that will not report to NASS, but it gives you a rough idea and you can watch trends,” said Dave Kemp, vice president of the N.H. Maple Producers Association. “The crop gets underreported and … maple is one of, if not the most important agricultural product the state produces.”
Data that NASS was able to record also showed that the state’s maple producers generated $8.2 million in produced syrup in 2021, the most recent period available, though 2018 claimed peak profits of the past six years at $9.1 million.
Kemp, a co-owner of Jaffrey maple business Yankee Maple, said damage to maple trees from squirrels slowed his syrup production last sugaring season from February to April 2022. He and a business partner aim to produce about 300 gallons of syrup each year, but the squirrels left them roughly 100 gallons short of their target.
“You have customers that depend on you, so we were able to go to some other local producers who had a surplus, and we bought some syrup in bulk so that we could keep our customers happy,” Kemp said.
Squirrels can be pesky critters for maple producers as they chew on lines that carry sap from tree to syrup equipment, but their level of damage is dependent on what the area squirrel population is each season, according to Bruce Bascom, head of Bascom Maple Farms in Acworth.
“This year, we’re getting … a moderate amount [of squirrel damage],” said Bascom, who started producing this season in the first week of January. “Some years you get virtually none and about one out of every 10 years it’s a real disaster.”
Compared to other producers in the region, Bascom’s operations are more focused on wholesale and nationwide distribution. He said his business made about 45,000 gallons of syrup in 2022 running from about 107,000 taps, seating Bascom Maple Farms among the largest producers in the Granite State.
“This year it’s going to be … between 105,000 [to] 110,000 taps because most of the trees we tap ourselves, but we have five people that tap their own trees,” Bascom said. “They sell us the raw sap that we process into syrup.”
Bascom said this past year was decidedly better for his business over 2021, which he said saw about 50 percent fewer gallons produced which he attributed to poorer winter weather. He also noted inflation has impacted larger businesses in the maple industry like his.
“The cost of making syrup is probably up $2 to $3 a gallon over the last year because the price of fuel oil that we’re buying is up,” he said. “Any transportation or trucking is up. … [For] almost everything you buy as a producer — the stainless evaporators, steel drums or tanks or plastic tubing — prices are up in general anywhere from 10 to 15 percent over last year.”
This sugaring season, Bascom said about half the trees on his roughly 4,500 acres of land have been tapped, which allows him to produce about 300 gallons of syrup in half an hour. Though, he said his outlook for the season isn’t as optimistic as in 2022.
“Last year was the highest year in about 10 years for production in New Hampshire,” he said. “We don’t expect to produce as much surplus as last year.”
But for Ben Fisk of Ben’s Sugar Shack, this season has already set a record in that his business began tree tapping the day after Christmas, which Fisk said is its earliest starting date ever.
“We’ve made just over 1,000 gallons of maple syrup so far this year, … [and] the weather patterns we’re seeing are pretty typical,” Fisk said. “… We have about 15,000 taps right now, so it’ll be another month before we’re done [adding taps].”
Last year was also a record for production, he said, with Ben’s Sugar Shack producing 10,600 gallons of syrup between February and mid-April. However, Fisk said right now he’s more focused on how to maximize sap produced from one tap rather than increasing the number of taps he has total.
The business is in the process of building a new 18,000-square-foot sugar house, but Fisk said construction won’t be completed until later this summer, just in time for peak maple sales he said he sees in the fall. The facility will allow more space for packing syrup and will house a larger retail store for visiting customers.
“We employ about 23 to 24 people year-round now for just the packaging,” Fisk said. “January and February are kind of slow for sales, but when it picks back up here in March and into the summertime we’ll probably hire on a couple more people.
Small family producers in the region who haven’t started sugaring yet, like Crescendo Acres Farms in Surry, noted this past season either went as anticipated or just fell short of expectations.
“We made 110 gallons [in 2022] and we were expecting to make [between] 125 and 140,” said Russ Fiorey, who owns Crescendo Acres with his wife, Diana.
The dip in syrup volume was the result of frequent temperature variation in the area, Fiorey said, giving him a shorter season that started around Feb. 27 and ended March 10. The brief production period meant that, like Kemp, Fiorey had to buy from other producers to meet sales demand.
“We used to make syrup until about April 5 or 10, but we’re almost always done by April 1 now,” Fiorey said of most other recent seasons. “… I’m not a fan of starting early because what happens is you get everything basically filled with water, and it’s not uncommon around the first of March to get some below-0 weather, where everything freezes up solid.”
And at Grand Monadnock Maple Farm in Harrisville, syrup producer couple Jon and Jillian Miner were able to hit that April 1 ending date for their season last year. Jon said 2022 wasn’t necessarily a record year in production for their small business.
“I would say given everything that’s gone on over the last three years, the amount of people that were out and about and stopped by to visit was a pretty significant increase,” he said of direct sales.
The couple tapped 1,250 trees last year and Jon said he’s hopeful they can begin again soon.
“It’s been very strange, not much of a winter, really; while the weather’s cold [this weekend] it looks like it’s going to warm back up again,” he said. “We’ll probably still start about Feb. 14.”
Kemp of the N.H. Maple Producers Association and Yankee Maple in Jaffrey shared Jon Miner’s thoughts on this winter. He said his biggest concern for smaller producers at the moment is a lack of frost on the ground in much of the state.
“We’re going to get some this weekend, but whether that’s enough to … give the trees a good freeze and concentrate sugar a little bit, … nobody’s got the finger on how to make a prediction yet.”
This article has been changed to correct the number of trees Grand Monadnock Maple Farm tapped during its 2022 sugaring season.
Welcome to the discussion.
Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.