Monday, July 9, 2007

Syrup season was not so sweet in Pennsylvania

By ROB GEBHARTDaily American Staff Writer

Saturday, June 30, 2007 11:32 PM EDT

The past winter wasn't the sweetest season for maple syrup producers in the state.

This year's maple syrup production fell 23 percent from 2006, according to United States Department of Agriculture reports.

Syrup producers in Somerset County were no exception. People here reported their production fell by 20 to almost 40 percent.

“We were not up to full power,” said Betty Arnold of Rockwood. “Usually we make 135 gallons. This year, we had 85 gallons.”

Experts say the drop was caused by poor syrup producing weather. Cool nights and warm days make for the best syrup seasons. But this year's winter consisted of extended periods of warm weather and cold weather, without much change in temperature between the days and nights.

“The weather conditions were just terrible,” said Marc Tocciano, the director of the National Agriculture Statistic Service's Pennsylvania field office.According to figures his office released in June, 51,000 gallons of maple syrup were produced in Pennsylvania this year. A year earlier, 66,000 gallons were produced. The season lasted an average of 22 days, compared to 32 days in 2006.The yield for the 2007 season averaged 0.115 gallons per tap, versus 0.147 gallons a year earlier.

Gary Blocher, owner of Milroy Farms south of Salisbury, said his syrup production was about 20 percent less than usual this year. He said the drop in production wouldn't affect consumers much and farmers would ride it out.

“Being a farmer you've got to ride it out. That's the nature of the industry,” Blocher said.

Compounding the weather difficulties, some sugar camps in the Fairhope and Glencoe area had to deal with gypsy moths last year, said Mike Wolf, a forest resources educator at the Penn State Cooperative Extension Office in Ebensburg. Gypsy moths defoliated some maple trees to the point that mid-July looked like winter.

But though one year of gypsy moth damage stresses a tree, the tree can survive it, Wolf said. Many maple producers in that area treated their trees with spray in early June. Those trees should now be in good shape for next winter.

In the Confluence area, maple trees are covered with heavy leaves, said Everett Sechler, owner of Sechler's Sugar Shack. That's a good sign for next year's syrup harvest.

“The more leaves, the more sugar that's being made,” Sechler said.

Wolf, who covers a nine-county region as part of Penn State's maple syrup team, said he heard this year's production consisted of a larger percentage of high quality syrup than in previous years. Light syrup is usually the most expensive syrup on retail sale. Dark syrup is usually the cheapest.

Statewide, more dark syrup was produced than last year, but most was of medium color, the USDA reported.The value of syrup produced in 2006 is estimated at $2.15 million, the agency reported. That figure is up from $1.92 million in 2005.

(Rob Gebhart can be reached at

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