By Jo-Anne MacKenzie
---- — Spring was sweet for many New Hampshire and Massachusetts maple syrup producers.
After a disastrous season in 2012, national production was up 70 percent this year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Every state reported an increase in production.
New Hampshire made 63 percent more syrup this year than last, from 76,000 gallons in 2012 to 124,000 this year. The Bay State, too, saw a spike, up 58 percent year to year. Massachusetts produced just 40,000 gallons of syrup last year, 63,000 gallons this year.
But they had nothing on the country’s top-producing state. Vermont saw a 76 percent increase this year, leaping from 750,000 gallons last year to 1.3 million this spring.
Blame or attribute the dramatic changes in production on one thing — the weather.
“It’s all weather,” said Robyn Pearl, publicist for the N.H. Maple Producers. “That’s the most frustrating part.”
But even in an above-average year, she said, there are areas of the state that do better or worse, all due to weather conditions.
Overall, cooler temperatures this spring delayed budding, which leads to the end of the sugaring season.
“Regionally, it can be different, that’s where weather steps in and takes over,” Pearl said. “In general, the weather was good, but we can have pockets of variation. Some people had the best year, some very average. But there’s nothing wrong with average.”
Maple syrup production matters to New Hampshire, but it’s not a significant agricultural product.
“We probably put about $6 million into the state’s economy,” Pearl said. “But (sugaring) definitely has historical value and there’s a kind of pride in quality. Locally made is a big draw in the food industry.”
In Massachusetts, maple syrup production in 2012 accounted for about $3.5 million. For top-producing states, it’s really big business. Maple syrup meant nearly $40 million to Vermont in 2012, more than $22 million to New York.
The USDA tracks syrup production and prices in the top 10 producing states. On that list, New Hampshire has recently ranked eighth, Massachusetts ninth. The industry is much more significant to the top three states — Vermont, New York and Maine.
Vermont produces 40 percent of the country’s maple syrup. New York is a distant second, making 18 percent. New Hampshire trails at 4 percent and Massachusetts is responsible for just 2 percent.
New Hampshire will never be number one, Pearl said, because there simply aren’t enough maple trees or taps.
“I was a little surprised by the (eighth-place) ranking,” she said. “In the past, we’ve ranked higher. We were fourth at one time.”
Fourth is about as high as the Granite State can hope to climb, she said. The top states have more trees, more taps, more producers.
Brian Folsom of Folsom’s Sugar House in Chester was satisfied with this year’s production, but he’s seen better seasons.
“It was a little better than average,” Folsom said. “We had good crowds as far as visitation to the sugarhouse. Last year on Maple Weekend, it was so warm we joked people would probably go to the beach. It was more typical this year.”
Folsom, who’s been sugaring since 1990, has about 500 taps and only uses buckets. It’s less that he’s a traditionalist and more a function of tapping in about 20 different spots, which doesn’t lend itself to using tubing.
He, too, said production is all about the weather.
“It’s always the case,” he said. “It’s a short season. It really comes down to the weather.”