U.S. maple sugaring season kicks off amid thaw

Fri Feb 18, 2011 2:22pm EST
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By Zach Howard

ASHFIELD, Massachusetts (Reuters Life!) -The sugar maple trees are tapped and their rich sap is starting to drain into buckets across New England, as a midwinter thaw heralds the start of the fleeting syrup production season.

But challenges loom for local harvesters, racing against time and the elements to gather enough sap to boil into the sweet delicacy, first cultivated centuries ago by Native American communities.

Despite the thaw, snow piles of three feet (one meter) in the northern woods and high snowbanks along back roads after the stormy January have complicated the start of sugaring season.

The need to strap on bulky snowshoes or fire up snowmobiles to set taps and haul away sap in the widespread maple groves has slowed them down a bit, producers say.

And if setting-up is delayed for what is a mere four-to six-week season, and temperatures become too warm, too fast, sugaring can seem like it is ending before it begins, experts say.

Harvesters need an extended pattern of mild days and chilly nights for the sap to run.

"It means getting started earlier than you normally would, because it is going to take a lot of time in the woods," said Brian Stowe, head of sugaring operations at the University of Vermont Proctor Maple Research Center, in Underhill Center.

Snowfall hit its highest since 2001 in Vermont, the biggest U.S. maple syrup producer, Stowe said this week.   Continued...

<p>Dale Wentworth checks the temperature of maple syrup before filtering it at Warren Farm in North Brookfield, Massachusetts in this March 21, 2007 file photo. REUTERS/Brian Snyder</p>