Economic sweet spot: making maple syrup
In southern New England, producers' prices are up and international demand is high.
Keith Dufresne says the sugaring weather is so good, he's on track to produce a record amount of maple syrup this season.Skip to next paragraph
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Frigid nights and warmer days are spurring maple trees across his 200-acre farm in western Massachusetts to pump out the sticky sap that he turns into syrup.
"I wonder when it's going to stop," says Mr. Dufresne, a fourth-generation sugarmaker, who is operating on about three hours of sleep a night. "It's driving us nuts."
It may represent only a tiny part of America's generally souring economy, but sugarmakers in southern New England are reporting a sweet turnaround. One year after the lowest syrup-producing season since 2001, demand is at a record high even as the price rises. Experts caution against assuming syrup producers will strike it rich: Production remains dependent on the weather, and increased fuel costs will offset profits. For now, though, the weather is perfect.
Rick Marsh, president of the Vermont Maple Sugar Makers' Association, says his sugar bush – a collection of trees for harvesting maple syrup – near Burlington has already produced two-thirds of the expected crop. "This is abnormal," he says. "I'm hearing that downstate, [as well as] Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Ohio are doing quite well."
The season hasn't yet been as kind to sugarmakers to the north and those in higher elevations where it's been too cold. Optimum sap flow requires freezing temperatures at night and bright sunshine and temperatures in the 40s during the day, says Brian Chabot, a Cornell University scientist.
Mr. Marsh says sugarmakers won't meet demand for the product, which has skyrocketed domestically and internationally, especially in Asia and Russia. "We're growing the market. Now we just need to grow production," he says.
Partly because of maple syrup's low-fat content and partly because of organic food's popularity, sugarmakers have been able to find new outlets beyond the familiar gallon jugs and plastic squeeze bottles found on store shelves. Dufresne sells syrup to several granola companies, a brewery, and breadmakers, all organizations that weren't interested in his crop five years ago.