Farmers Experience Shaky Harvest As Maple Festival Approaches

Mar 28, 2016

Maple sap is most abundant after a cold, wet winter.
Credit Magnus Karlsson / Flickr

Syrup producers don’t have as much to celebrate at this year’s Pennsylvania Maple Festival.

Somerset County is the biggest producer of maple syrup in the state and home to the Pennsylvania Maple Festival, celebrating spring maple tapping over the first two weekends of April. Warm weather has meant a lower yield for sap, however.

Farmers, like Jason Blocher who operates Milroy Farms in Salisbury, Somerset County, are feeling the effects. Blocher said his family's been in the sap business a long time. 

“My grandparents bought it in 1942 and I’m the third generation on this farm," said Blocher. "If I go through my grandmother’s lineage I’m a fifth generation maple producer."

And the warm, dry weather in the region has not been ideal for production.

“We want lots of moisture," Blocher said. "So, we want rain, snow. As far as a maple producer, the last thing you want to see in the first part of March, or middle part of March is bright, sunny skies and 60-, 70-degree days."

That has led to a decrease in the volume of sap drawn from the trees.

“Sap-wise, we typically move between 180 and 200,000 gallons of sap through our facility," Blocher said. "This year, we’re gonna be probably in about the 150,000 range."

Premature warm weather has also meant the sap drawn is not as sweet.

“Where you typically see 2 percent, or a little over 2 percent sugar in the sap coming from the tree, we’re seeing 1, maybe 1-and-a-half percent,” said Blocher.

The warm weather has also affected the length of the tapping season, which is normally four to six weeks. Blocher said due to the cold winter last season, he was able to start sap collection on March 9. This year’s harvest has already come and gone.

“We’re probably done for the season,” he said.

The festival runs April 2, 3 and 6 to 10. Not all activities are maple-related and include food vendors, crafts and auto shows.

But Blocher said he won't be discouraged by the bad season. 

“It’s like everything else in agriculture," he said. "You spend the money in hope for a good yield. Some years you get it, some years you don’t get it. And it’s the fun of dealing with mother nature, so you just roll with the punches.”