A large crowd turned out at the Hall Farms Maple Products for Maine Maple Sunday, which took place on Sunday, March 24. Despite the heavy snowfall, many were able to make the journey for a demonstration on making maple syrup and other related products. Brian Ponce/Franklin Journal

REGION — Hundreds of sugar shacks and maple producers took part in 41st Maine Maple Sunday Weekend on Saturday, March 23, and Sunday, March 24, despite the heavy snowfall that swept the state.

Though many had to make last minute changes to their plans for the weekend, most maple producers were still able to open their shacks up to the public for boiling demonstrations and free samples.

This little jar of maple syrup, seen here at the Long Drive Acres Maple on Sunday, March 24, is one drop of the amount of maple syrup David Leavitt has produced. Normally able to come away with 700 gallons in a typical year, Leavitt shared that his yield is lower by almost 300 gallons this year because he has to use more sap to offset the reduced sugar content. Brian Ponce/Franklin Journal

Over at Long Drive Acres Maple, David Leavitt and family had their boilers going and machines running, creating a plume of white smoke at the top of the sap house as guests were shuttled in by wagon. Inside, guests got a demonstration of all the different techniques involved with creating a variety of different maple related products, such as maple cream, sugar and pancake’s best friend, syrup.

Leavitt, a lifelong maple producer, had previously shared with The Franklin Journal that he had seen lower sugar levels in the sap, leading to more sap used in the boiling process. He added that in previous years, the ratio of sap to syrup was roughly 40 gallons of sap for one gallon of syrup. This year, the lower sugar content has led to a ratio of 70 to one.

Leavitt shared that in a normal year, he would have a yield of more than 700 gallons of maple syrup, but the increased amount of sap to offset reduced sugar content has led to a yield of roughly 400 gallons.

Over at Plaisted Farm Maple Products, Kevin Plaisted shared that he had seen a similar problem, which may affect how much syrup they will have at the end of the season. Plaisted, with 24 years of experience producing maple syrup, shared that from over 13,000 taps, he would usually end the season with 5,000 gallons.


This year, however, Plaisted only has roughly 3,000 gallons of syrup so far as a result of the reduced sugar content. He added the sugar levels drop was only recent, within the last month or so.

Beverly Leavitt gets a bag ready for a customer over at Long Drive Acres Maple on Sunday. Maple producers all over the state offered demonstration of how they go about making maple syrup for Maine Maple Sunday, with the added bonus of buying some of their products on the way out the door. Brian Ponce/Franklin Journal

Other producers in the area have shared similar experiences with their sap. Rodney Hall over at Hall Farms Maple Products in East Dixfield did notice a drop in sugar content, adding that it could be any number of factors. “Everyone has a theory,” he said. “You can just pick one.”

Over in New Vineyard, Schanz Family Maple and Shady Lane Sugar Shack shared they had also noticed a recent drop in the sugar content of their sap, but not as significant as others in the region. Over in Industry, True Mountain Maple shared they had not seen any differences in their sugar content.

Jason Lilley, assistant extension professor and Maine sustainable agriculture and maple industry educator for UMaine Cooperative Extension, shared some of his findings in the recent drop in sugar content with the Livermore Falls Advertiser.

“This season has been like a disconnected cluster of microclimates,” Lilley shared, “where maple operations in fairly close geographical areas are having very different seasons.”

Lilley stated that temperature could be the primary reason, and the inconsistent winter season could be a driving factor.


These jars of maple syrup, seen at the Plaisted Farm Maple Products on Sunday, March 24, show the level of darkness in the maple syrup over the last few weeks. Lower sugar content means more sap is boiled to attain the right amount of sweetness, which in turn produces a darker maple syrup. Brian Ponce/Franklin Journal

“Fairly early in the season in much of the state,” he said, “the weather jumped up to being in the low 50s, and just barely getting down to freezing at night. The trees need to have a solid freeze in order to create the pressure differential inside the tree from the freeze thaw cycle, leading to sap flow.”

Lilley also added that there was a noticeable difference in operations that rely on gravity based tubing systems [where the sap lines consistently run down hill and are open at the ends], and operations with vacuum based collection systems [which put negative pressure on the tap holes].

“The vacuum based systems will traditionally produce higher than gravity based systems, but this year that difference has been large,” he said.

Lilley also stated that no direct correlation can be found between weather and sap yields, but he and several other maple researchers were investing in projects to assess weather patterns during and between the sap season, and what type of long term effects this may have on the trees, if any.

“We do know that droughts and long periods of saturated soils create stress and degrade the overall health of sugar maple trees,” he said. “With that in mind, we’re hoping to find long term connections between those weather events and sap quality.

“The complexity of tree physiology,” he continued, “and the trees’ natural ability to withstand these stressors over long periods of time may end up covering up any correlations, but we are starting the process of investigating that.”

Despite spring being officially here as of Tuesday, March 19, a cold snap and heavy snowfall hit the state over the weekend, but maple producers like Leavitt and Plaisted welcome the snow if it helps adjust the sugar content of their yields.

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