MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) – Accommodating weather and a boost in the number of maple trees tapped are being credited for a bumper 2009 maple syrup crop.

Sugar makers produced 2.3 million gallons this winter, the most in at least 65 years, according to New England Agricultural Statistics.

That’s good news for cost-conscious pancake eaters and maple-loving cooks: The high supply could help keep per-gallon prices in check after a year in which they soared past $65 due to depleted supplies.

“This was an awesome year,” said Catherine Stevens, marketing director for Vermont maple syrup. “This year, we’ll be able to meet demand for the product. Even with this economy, people are still buying maple syrup. Prices, from what I hear, will stay the same, not increase.”

New England Agricultural Statistics, an arm of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, tracks syrup production using written surveys sent to several thousand sugar makers in 10 states.

But Pennsylvania producers struggled with too-warm weather and in Massachusetts and New Hampshire, damage from a December ice storm prompted some sugar makers to sit out the season and others to reduce production. All three had off years, with decreases of 1 percent in New Hampshire, 8 percent in Pennsylvania and 29 percent in Massachusetts.

Also reporting decreases: Connecticut and Ohio.

In 2008, global demand for maple syrup far outstripped supply, in part because lingering winter cold slowed sap flow and deep snow made it tough for sugar makers to get into the woods in Maine, neighboring Quebec province in Canada and parts of Vermont.

That brought down production and drove up prices. It also prompted many – seeing a moneymaking opportunity – to tap more trees in 2009.

In Vermont, more than 3 million trees were tapped, about 20 percent more than in 2008.

Typically, the “sugarin’ season” in New England begins in late February or early March, as daytime temperatures climb into the 40s and then nightfall brings them back down below freezing. Commercial syrup makers and backyard farmers who tap only a few dozen trees head into to the snowy woods, hammering taps into the trees.

Old-fashioned operators hang steel buckets on the taps to collect the sap. More modern farms use plastic tubing to catch it and ferry it downhill to a sugar house, where it’s boiled in evaporators and made into syrup.

It takes about 40 gallons of sap to make a gallon of maple syrup.

“All things being equal, it was just the year the maple industry needed,” said Glenn Goodrich, whose family has been making maple syrup at Goodrich Maple Farm in Cabot, Vt., since 1835. “The consumers saw a retail increase in the last 12 months, but now the prices are back to where they should be, to cover production costs.”


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