2017 production results were published in the USDA NASS survey on June 9th. For Ohio, the numbers were an improvement over 2016 but only marginally. Ohio produced 80,000 gallons, a slight improvement over the 70,000 gallons produced last year. Once again, 75% of the producing states improved their production, and for many, it was a major improvement. New York and Maine each added close to 50,000 gallons over last year’s production. The nation’s leading producer of maple syrup – Vermont – again finished right below 2 million gallons. Vermont is in no danger of losing its crown. Finishing out the top 5 were New York (760,000 gallons), Maine (709,000), Wisconsin (200,000) and New Hampshire (154,000). Ohio continues to slide in its ranking to a disappointing 9th place. However, Ohio producers did increase production over 2016 by 10,000 gallons due to an early start. The earliest start date in Ohio was January 1, 2017, 25 days earlier than 2016. The problem is that when you look at the average start date across the state it was February 11th. That was a problem given the mild weather conditions we experienced in January, and you will also remember we set all-time record highs on February 24th with a balmy 77 degrees Fahrenheit. Ohio’s season ended early around March 16th. Syrup per tap, a measurement where Ohio was once a leader, dropped to 0.20 gallons per tap – a second subpar year in a row for the Buckeye State. By comparison, Vermont recorded their earliest start, also on January 1, with their average starting date February 24th, but had almost an extra 3 weeks of production on average with an average closing date of April 10. Both New York and Maine experienced similar scenarios.
One final statistic that has shown a modest improvement over last year, but is still below 2015, is the number of taps reported for Ohio – 400,000 taps in 2017. For anyone working closely with the Ohio maple industry this statistic is mind boggling given that expansion has occurred in sugar bushes across the state for the last 5 years. The only explanation for this is that a large portion of the syrup being produced in Ohio is going unreported. Another statistic that tends to cast suspicion on the validity of Ohio’s maple production statistics is how Ohio producers choose to market their syrup. In 2015, 44% of Ohio producers sold to the retail market. That number dropped to 30% in 2016. At the same time the bulk sales market expanded from 32% in 2015 to 43% in 2016 (Note: these numbers are always one year behind the current year). Examining market trends of the Big 3 states (Vermont, New York and Maine), the largest percentage of their syrup is sold as bulk (46%, 86%, and 93% in New York, Vermont, and Maine, respectively). It makes you wonder how much syrup is actually being produced in Ohio and is being sold out the backdoor to eastern and western packers. If this true, it is sad because the demand for maple syrup is on the increase in Ohio and the stores are flooded with Canada’s and Eastern states’ syrup.
So what have we learned from the last several maple seasons and how can we improve our maple production? The one thing that is clear is that during the last five years, we have not experienced consistent “normal” seasons for maple production. The years of 2017, 2016 and 2013 were all warmer than normal, and if you wanted to maintain average production for your operation you had to start early to get the early runs. This was especially true in 2017. The Polar Vortex years of 2014 and 2015 presented their own challenges due to the extremely cold winters and late season starts that we experienced. The fact is, when the weather is right, make your move and tap your trees. In most cases, you will never make up for production lost early in the season by trying to extend the season at the tail end. Another reason to tap early is syrup quality. It is much easier to make a quality product in the first half of the season rather than while fighting increased bacterial contamination and slowing tapholes later in the season. Hopefully 2018 will be a banner year for Ohio maple producers, we are long overdue for a good one.