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Mild winter causes an early start to maple sugaring season in Massachusetts

Sap flows from a maple tree.
Robert F. Bukaty
Sap flows from a maple tree.

The milder-than-average winter has meant an early season for maple syrup producers in Massachusetts. And some say, that's been the trend of late.

According to the Massachusetts Maple Producer’s Association, some of its members began tapping trees and making syrup as early as late January.

Howard Boyden operates a sugar house in Conway, Massachusetts. He said decades ago, the season started around March 1st. That timeline has changed.

"If I'm not tapping or at this point, tapped, by February 14, we're missing out on it," he said.

Despite the early start, Boyden said the run of cool nights and mild days has helped the quality of this year's product.

"...sweeter sap for one thing, so less processing time and everything is cold, it's near freezing, so you get some really, really nice sap," he said.

Winton Pitcoff, the coordinator of the Massachusetts Maple Producers Association, said production of syrup has grown some in Massachusetts in recent years, up to about 70,000 gallons a year.

"We've definitely seen a consistent increase, but that's partly also because more trees are being tapped and more sugar makers are coming online because they're getting interested in the industry and the product," Pitcoff said.

Massachusetts’ yield pales in comparison to other states, including Vermont, which led the country with more than 2.5 million gallons of maple syrup made. But it is an important industry to western Mass. The producers’ association said over 80% of the state’s more than 300 makers are located west of Interstate 91. The total impact of the industry is pegged at $13 million.

While this year got an early start, Boyden, the maple producer, said a cold snap could help prolong it.

"It sends the trees right back into dormancy...it will cause them to pretty much reset and when it warms up again, they'll start running sap again," Boyden said.

Adam joined NEPM as a freelance reporter and fill-in operations assistant during the summer of 2011. For more than 15 years, Adam has had a number stops throughout his broadcast career, including as a news reporter and anchor, sports host and play-by-play announcer as well as a producer and technician.