I suppose if you had to select one word that would describe Ohio maple syrup production over the last five years it would be “change.” Traditionally, maple trees are tapped on Presidents Day and the season runs until April. In the last five years, producers have been tapping trees earlier and earlier. In some cases in northeast Ohio, the last week of January. In more southerly portions of Ohio, many are tapping even earlier than that. In some years, producers have boiled a large percentage of their syrup in February. In many years – this year being no exception – by the time the Geauga County Maple Festival arrives, the actual maple season is a distant memory. Seasons like 2020 will be remembered for excellent production. 2021 was dismal and forgettable for most. 2022 is a more difficult year to generalize. A “one size fits all” label and commentary would be oversimplifying the season.
The first reports that reached my desk were that the 2022 season in Ohio was a bust. A half crop at best and for some that was true. For others, that was not the case. It all came down to location and timing. In parts of the state where you would expect a poor crop in a bad year, a full crop was produced. In more traditional areas of the Buckeye State, the result was less than favorable. Again, it all depended on the specific location of the sugarbush, when trees were tapped, and when the season stalled to a stop.
In Ohio, the 2022 season turned back the clock to a more traditional start. After a very cold and snowy February, the majority of the producers tapped within a week of President’s Day. The 2022 season was also a very intense season. The majority of the syrup was made over a short window between March 1st and St. Patrick’s Day. Heavy snows in February and heavier rain the first part of March resulted in an abundance of moisture in the woods. Two things happen when you have excessive amounts of precipitation. It translates into large volumes of sap, but it can simultaneously lower the sugar content within the sap. In 2022, that certainly was the case. A 60 to 1 sap to syrup ratio was not uncommon.
In the sugarhouse, producers reported that the niter had an uncharacteristic red cast that was hard to filter. For the majority of Ohio sugarmakers, the season ended on March 17th – St. Patrick’s Day. A few of the more adventuresome producers hung in until the last major freeze of the season on March 25th but the payoff was negligible. 2022 will be remembered as a continuation of the La Nina weather patterns experienced in 2021. Even with a more traditional start date, the season was again short with few big runs and low sap sugar. If you were lucky, you had an average year at best; however, most will chalk up 2022 as a 2nd consecutive disappointing season.
Better luck next year?!