Bad year for maple syrup in Catskills


(The Watershed Post interviews George and Duane LaFever, Catskill maple syrup producers.)

The Watershed Post reports on the lack of maple syrup production this spring:

It’s the peak of New York’s annual maple festival, and local tappers are saying the maple syrup yield in the Catskills is worse than it’s ever been. Sugar producers in the Catskills are collecting under a quarter of the sap that they usually do at this time of year, says Helen Thomas, the executive director of the New York State Maple Producers Association. Production is down across the board in the warmer parts of New York, she adds, including at her own Syracuse farm. But the Catskills are seeing the most dramatic sap shortage. “It’s pretty universal in the Catskill region that you’re just doing lousy,” she says. Jessica Ziehm, a spokesperson for the New York State Department of Agriculture & Markets, confirms that because the Catskills are the southernmost syrup-producing region in the state, they “might be a little worse-off than others.” But it’s been a bad season for syrup all over, she adds. At Catskill Mountain Maple, a sugar house in Delancey, 74-year-old George LaFever, a second-generation syrup-maker, says that this is the worst maple season in memory. “It’s been a horrible season,” says his son, Duane LaFever, who owns Catskill Mountain Maple with business partner Tom Kaufman. “We’re probably at maybe 25 percent of normal.” “Pretty much everybody I know in about a 50-mile circle from here is having the same type of terrible season,” says Kaufman. “Nobody can figure out exactly what’s going on.” This winter’s intense blizzards, which have been chased by freakishly early warm weather, are probably playing a role, says Thomas, who spoke with the Watershed Post by phone as she was cleaning her sap lines in an attempt to boost her own forest’s yield. “The nights have gotten way too warm way too fast,” she says. “It’s supposed to warm up slow. That way the trees wake up slow.” “We haven’t had the freezing nights,” Kaufman says. “And it seems like when we have had the freezing nights, it’s still going wrong.” But there might be another factor at play: the forest tent caterpillar, or as George LaFever calls them, “maple worms.” Forest tent caterpillars eat leaves and can kill trees. Cornell’s Sugar Maple Research & Extension program advises maple producers to spray for them if the defoliation is bad enough to hurt sap production. Kaufman says he has sprayed for tent caterpillars three times in recent years. However, according to Ziehm, there have been no studies showing a link between tent caterpillars and sap reduction in the maple industry.

Click on WGXC or WGXC Newsroom for more information. Send news, tips, etc. to news@wgxc.org.

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