Sugarmakers see record start to maple sugar season

This season is the earliest Bruce Bascom has ever collected sap. The mild winter, which has sometimes felt spring-like, allowed him to start in December. This past weekend, when daytime temperatures hit close to 50 degrees, he collected 2,000 gallons of sap. So far this season, he has about 8,000 gallons. 

Bruce Bascom has been involved in the maple sugar business since he was a child.  Bascom, 73, remembers being in a dirt-floor sugarhouse with his grandfather at five years old, collecting sap with buckets, which he boiled on a wood stove. His farm, Bascom Maple Farms Inc.in Acworth, goes back to 1853, and seven generations of his family members have produced sugar there. “We've worked our way up from the bottom over about 40 years,” Bascom said. He now taps 115,000 maple trees on 2,200 acres of land near the Vermont border. He has the largest sugar business in New Hampshire and one of the largest in New England, producing close to 50,000 gallons of syrup a year, which he sells to tens of thousands of customers.   In all his decades of experience, he never started collecting sap in the middle of winter—until recently.  “Go back 10 to 15 years ago, we never started before the first of February, but the weather is getting warmer,” he said.  This season is the earliest he’s ever collected sap. The mild winter, which has sometimes felt spring-like, allowed him to start in December. This past weekend, when daytime temperatures hit close to 50 degrees, he collected 2,000 gallons of sap. So far this season, he has about 8,000 gallons.  Bascom said predicting the start of the season is “like throwing a dart in the wall. You never know from one year to the next whether or not you've made the right decision. It's a very high risk crop. It's very weather dependent.” Despite the early start this year, Bascom said most of his crop will be collected after March 1. “It’s too early to come to any conclusion about what the crop’s going to be,” he said. It’s not just this year.  Jason Lilley, an assistant extension professor of sustainable agriculture and maple industry educator with the University of Maine said climate change has impacted the fluctuation in the maple sugaring season.  "If we were experiencing this in a single season, I would say that it's just a result of an abnormally warm winter,” said Lilley in a United States Department of Agriculture blog post last year.  “However, this has been a widely recognized trend among the maple industry over several seasons.”   Dana Ryll, the owner of Fieldstone Farm Sugarhouse in Rindge, was one of those that took advantage of the warm weekend. “We’re about a week earlier than we normally are,” he said. “It was perfect weather. It was about 40s in the day and cold at night—perfect for sugar making.”  In his 20 years of producing, he’s never started before President's Day. “As soon as the sap starts to flow, we like to start,” he said. “In order for the sap to flow, you have to have warm days above freezing and cold nights.”  Ryll has nearly 2,000 taps and produces about 200 gallons of sugar a year with a wood-fired machine. Like Bascom, he said trying to predict the outcome of the season is always “a crap shoot.”  “It's just a hobby,” Ryll said. “When we stop having fun doing it, we're going to stop doing it." New Hampshire’s maple weekend, when many maple farmers around the state open their doors to the public, is March 16-17. A list of farms can be found on the website.   

By Katy Savage

February 15, 2024

Bruce Bascom has been involved in the maple sugar business since he was a child. 

Bascom, 73, remembers being in a dirt-floor sugarhouse with his grandfather at five years old, collecting sap with buckets, which he boiled on a wood stove. His farm, Bascom Maple Farms Inc.in Acworth, goes back to 1853, and seven generations of his family members have produced sugar there.

“We’ve worked our way up from the bottom over about 40 years,” Bascom said.

He now taps 115,000 maple trees on 2,200 acres of land near the Vermont border. He has the largest sugar business in New Hampshire and one of the largest in New England, producing close to 50,000 gallons of syrup a year, which he sells to tens of thousands of customers.  

In all his decades of experience, he never started collecting sap in the middle of winter—until recently.

 “Go back 10 to 15 years ago, we never started before the first of February, but the weather is getting warmer,” he said. 

This season is the earliest he’s ever collected sap. The mild winter, which has sometimes felt spring-like, allowed him to start in December. This past weekend, when daytime temperatures hit close to 50 degrees, he collected 2,000 gallons of sap. So far this season, he has about 8,000 gallons. 

Bascom said predicting the start of the season is “like throwing a dart in the wall. You never know from one year to the next whether or not you’ve made the right decision. It’s a very high risk crop. It’s very weather dependent.”

Despite the early start this year, Bascom said most of his crop will be collected after March 1.

“It’s too early to come to any conclusion about what the crop’s going to be,” he said.

It’s not just this year. 

Jason Lilley, an assistant extension professor of sustainable agriculture and maple industry educator with the University of Maine said climate change has impacted the fluctuation in the maple sugaring season. 

“If we were experiencing this in a single season, I would say that it’s just a result of an abnormally warm winter,” said Lilley in a United States Department of Agriculture blog post last year.  “However, this has been a widely recognized trend among the maple industry over several seasons.”  

Dana Ryll, the owner of Fieldstone Farm Sugarhouse in Rindge, was one of those that took advantage of the warm weekend.

“We’re about a week earlier than we normally are,” he said. “It was perfect weather. It was about 40s in the day and cold at night—perfect for sugar making.” 

In his 20 years of producing, he’s never started before President’s Day.

“As soon as the sap starts to flow, we like to start,” he said. “In order for the sap to flow, you have to have warm days above freezing and cold nights.” 

Ryll has nearly 2,000 taps and produces about 200 gallons of sugar a year with a wood-fired machine. Like Bascom, he said trying to predict the outcome of the season is always “a crap shoot.” 

“It’s just a hobby,” Ryll said. “When we stop having fun doing it, we’re going to stop doing it.”

New Hampshire’s maple weekend, when many maple farmers around the state open their doors to the public, is March 16-17. A list of farms can be found on the website. 

 

Author

  • Katy Savage

    Katy Savage is an award-winning reporter with more than 10 years of experience working in daily, weekly and digital news organizations as both an editor and reporter. Based in Enfield, Katy is a New England native and has a passion for telling stories about where she grew up. In her free time, she enjoys running and being outside as much as possible.

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