Warmer weather usually means two things in Maine: spring and maple syrup. Punxsutawney Phil predicted an early spring Tuesday and local sugarhouse owners say syrup production is right on schedule.

“The trees won’t run just because we have one warm day,” said Kristi Brannen of Spring Break Maple and Honey in Smyrna. In fact, because of its northern location, the Brannens have not even begun tapping trees.

According to Eric Ellis of Maine Maple Products, it’s not unusual to start tapping trees in February, especially in Southern and Western Maine. However, it would be unusual to start collecting that sap and turning it into syrup, which most producers have yet to do.

Ed Jillson, of Jillson’s Farm and Sugarhouse in Sabattus, tapped a test tree which produced one gallon of sap with 2.5 percent sugar content, which according to Jillson is very good. But they will not begin tapping in earnest until mid-February if the weather continues to warm up.

Brannen, Ellis and Jillson all agree the maple industry is highly dependent on weather, which is often difficult to predict. A gradual warm-up with sustained warmth during the days is ideal, Ellis said. A quick warm-up could mean a shorter season. During an average season, the maple trees will run about 15 times over five to six weeks.

Some sugarhouses, including Jillson’s, use closed vacuum tubing in addition to the traditional bucket tapping when collecting sap. According to Ed Jillson, the tubing allows for earlier tapping because it keeps the cold air from getting in and sealing the trees. Weather permitting, Jillson’s will start 800 taps connected to the vacuum tubing by next weekend.

Maine’s maple syrup production, the third-largest in the U.S. behind Vermont and New York, is directly responsible for 567 full-time and part-time jobs and contributes $27.7 million in revenue, according Todd Gabe, professor of economics at the University of Maine.

Maine Maple Sunday is always held on the fourth Sunday in March. It falls on March 27 this year, which coincides with Easter.

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