Maple syrup producers worried about effects of cold weather

CHARDON, Ohio (AP) - Anxious maple syrup producers are worried that a predicted cold spell this week will cause another delay in the maple sugaring season in northeast Ohio.

Maple trees were tapped for the sugar-laden sap when temperatures rose Sunday and Monday, but a lingering winter has pushed the harvest about two weeks behind schedule. Trees need warm days to stimulate sap flow.

Another cold snap that was forecast to start Tuesday could delay production for at least another week. Temperatures are expected to plunge near or below freezing and stay there through the weekend.

"The forecast is not in our favor," said Gary Graham, an Ohio State University Extension specialist. "The cold is going to put the brakes on everything . . . again."

Conditions are very similar to those of 2003, when an extended winter delayed sap collecting by almost three weeks. Ohio's syrup production fell below normal levels that year, costing producers hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost revenue.

Producers aren't panicking yet, said Debbie Richards of Richards Maple Products in Chardon, the largest maple dealer in the state. She says syrup making could extend into April if the weather allows.

"There's still time to make a lot of syrup," Richards said. "You've got to keep hope."

Over the past decade, Ohio has produced an average of about 78,000 gallons of syrup per year, generating about $2.3 million annually. The majority of the syrup comes from the state's northeast corner, and Geauga County accounts for more than one-quarter of the state's syrup.

(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)