ASHFIELD, Mass (Reuters) - Stack up the pancakes!
Maple syrup production hit a 76-year high in the United States this year with the help of an especially long season for tapping sap from maple trees.
The perfect combination of mild days and frosty nights in key harvesting areas this winter and spring touched off a near record-breaking flow of the rich, tasty sap, Hernan Ortiz, statistician with the USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service, said on Friday.
Nationwide output of maple syrup jumped 43 percent to 2.8 million gallons in 2011, its highest mark since 1935, Ortiz said.
"Every single state that we collected information from reported an increase in production this year," he said.
To produce syrup, a traditional favorite topping for pancakes and waffles, the watery clear sap is boiled until it concentrates into a thick amber syrup. Forty gallons of sap make about one gallon of syrup.
The sugary delicacy first was cultivated centuries ago by Native American tribes.
This year, Vermont again was the leading producer with 1.1 million gallons, a peak reaching back to the 1940s, said Ortiz. New York was second with 564,000 gallons, the most by far since record keeping began in about 1970. Maine took third place with 360,000 gallons.
In New Hampshire, where Ortiz works, the state's output of 120,000 gallons was its most since the 1920s.
The sweet haul was the turnaround producers had hoped for after last year turned out to be the worst season on record for many producers, especially those in Massachusetts.
"Our business is all about the weather. It's got to be as many days as possible that conditions are just right for sap flow - and we had that this year," Tom McCrumm, owner of South Face Farm in Ashfield, Massachusetts told Reuters.
"The season was good," said McCrumm. "It never got too warm or too cold."
Massachusetts produced 62,000 gallons of syrup, compared to only 29,000 gallons the previous year.
Harvesters need an extended run of mild days and frosty nights for the sap to run. Average season length this year rose to 32 days, from just 23 days in 2010. Trees were tapped from January 15 in Pennsylvania until May 7 in Wisconsin, NASS reported.
Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Greg McCune