MADISON (AP) – After getting off to a slower-than-molasses start, Maine’s maple syrup season ended about even with last year’s production, syrup producers said.

Final production figures have not been compiled, but Eric Ellis of Madison, who taps 50,000 trees in Somerset County for Maine Maple Products, said the season will end near or a little below average.

“By the end of the season, it turned around and a lot of syrup was made,” Ellis said.

Maine is the country’s No. 2 syrup producer behind Vermont, with production rising from less than 12,000 gallons a year through most of the 1980s to 230,000 gallons last year.

Although Maine has about 300 producers, the lion’s share of syrup is made by about 50 producers in the northern reaches of Somerset County.

This year, sugar makers feared the season might be a dismal one.

Constant, pervasive cold continued well into the sugaring season.

Daytime temperatures ideally should be about 40 degrees, with nights remaining freezing to allow for the optimal production.

This temperature cycle causes the sap to move up and down the tree and allow for tapping. If cold temperatures turn warm too quickly, however, the trees start to bud and the sap turns bitter.

Conditions were so bleak at one time that Iver Lofving, a sugar maker from Skowhegan, resorted to prayer – calling on a local priest to come bless his trees.

Robert Smith of Skowhegan is president of the Maine Maple Syrup Producers Association and taps almost 12,000 trees in northern Somerset County.

He said the sugaring season began about the usual time this year, but was threatened with cold temperatures. In the end, he said the season can be labeled as average.

“The problem was the temperatures continued to go down and everything froze up for about nine days,” he said.

Smith said the final syrup production numbers should be ready in mid-June.

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