STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) – First too cold, then too hot. The weather never did come out right for Pennsylvania maple syrup producers this year, many of whom saw their smallest harvests in decades.

As syrup producers wrapped up production in April, most reported one of the worst crops in years, complicated mostly by weather patterns that created a short season.

“We had about 80 percent of a full crop,” said Allan Kinter, who made about 59 gallons of syrup from an Indiana County farm that usually produces 70 gallons or more.

Kinter said his season lasted only 12 days. “I’ve been making maple syrup since 1961, so that would be 42 years, and that’s the shortest season I have ever seen,” he said.

The Pennsylvania Agricultural Statistics Service won’t have final numbers until June. But reports from around the state indicate that Kinter wasn’t the only producer hit by a short season.

Many producers didn’t even begin tapping until early March, about two weeks later than they usually start. By then, it didn’t take long for the weather to get too warm.

“It stayed really cold, then it got warm, and then it got cold again, and you need that in-between,” said Jim Finley, associate professor of forest resources at Penn State University.

Pennsylvania typically ranks near the middle of 14 maple syrup-producing states.

For ideal sap flow, the temperature needs to drop below freezing at night. That contracts carbon dioxide bubbles in the sap, allowing more sap to concentrate in the tree. If the weather then warms up in the day, the gas expands, forcing the sap up through the tree and out the tap.

“We never had the really cold nights and the really warm days that drive the process,” Finley said. “It was either warm at night and warm in the day, or cold at night and cold in the day.”

Peter Gregg, publisher of The Maple News, based in Greenwich, N.Y., said the nation’s largest producers in Maine, Vermont and northern New York had better weather and were expecting an average harvest. So were producers in Quebec, which produces some 80 percent of the world’s maple syrup.

But Pennsylvania producers weren’t alone – producers in Ohio, Maryland and West Virginia saw smaller harvests this year, Gregg said.

“The crop in the southern states of the so-called ‘Maple Belt’ did very poorly,” Gregg said. “Production was off considerably due to very fluctuating temperatures, none of which were ideal for sap flow. It was either too hot or too cold.”

Two years ago, Pennsylvania had a bumper crop, producing some 69,000 gallons of syrup valued at $1.75 million. Last year’s harvest of 55,000 gallons was considered more typical.

This year, not all Pennsylvania producers suffered. Anna Mitstifer said her Tioga County farm produced 120 gallons of syrup this year, more than double last year’s production.

But just a short distance away, 77-year-old Robert Raker called it the worst season he’s ever seen. His Tioga County farm produced just 145 gallons of syrup this year, down from 460 gallons last year.

“It was a disaster,” Raker said. Producers might have been able to tap earlier along the Northern Tier, Raker said, but the winter’s heavy snowfall kept producers away from their trees.

“The snow was so deep,” Raker said. “We would have liked to have tapped earlier, but we tapped in the middle of March. You can’t get sap if you can’t get to the trees, and that snow was miserable.”

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AP-ES-05-02-03 1501EDT

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