Early Tapping Key To Year's Maple Syrup Harvest

CHARDON, Ohio (AP) - Northeast Ohio maple producers who tapped their trees in early February enjoyed an above-average maple syrup harvest this year.

"Deciding when to tap is always a roll of the dice," said Les Ober, a Geauga County maple producer and a board member of the Ohio Maple Producers Association. "This year, the people who got out in the woods early were the people who guessed right."

Preliminary reports indicate statewide maple syrup production will drop from 96,000 gallons of syrup in 2001 to about 75,000 gallons this year, Ober said.

Retail prices are expected to remain stable at $32 to $38 per gallon. Last year's harvest was worth $2.7 million, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

A producer typically has 30 days from tapping to draw sap from the tree for making syrup, Ober said. After 30 days, the tap hole starts closing as the tree begins to heal.

Those who tapped about a week to 10 days before the traditional Presidents Day start date got a better harvest this year.

The guessing game revolves around figuring out when the ideal weather for syrup making -- warm days and cold nights -- will fall on the calendar. The risk in tapping too early is getting frozen out of syrup-making by a blast of winter in February.

Unseasonably warm weather in December and January persuaded many producers to start harvesting sap early.

"There was a certain feeling that if you didn't make your syrup early, you might not make it at all," said Aggie Sojka, whose syrup won top honors at the Ohio State Fair last year.

"I wish we would have gotten out earlier," said Jeff Burr of the Geauga Maple Co., one of the few operations still making syrup last week in an effort to boost its harvest. "We did OK, but nothing like last year."

Geauga County serves as the hub of Ohio's maple industry, and this week the community will hold its annual Maple Festival. The event runs Thursday through Sunday on Chardon Square.

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)