Two men, dressed head to toe in Carhartt jumpsuits, trudge through knee-deep snow as powdery flakes fall steadily from the sky on a cloudy March Sunday morning. One, the son, carries a DeWalt power drill and plastic clear-handled hammer in hand, the other, the father, follows steadily behind.
This day will be just like any of the other three days the duo has been out in the woods this season. Snow fills their boots and the cold bites their faces, as they struggle to make it through the 17-acres of their 170-acre property, tapping trees for this year’s maple syrup season.
Dan and Eric Beasley have run family-owned and operated Sweet Trees Maple in Berkshire, New York for the last 13 years. The company produces maple syrup and similar products available at local markets, stores and even supplies to Funk ‘n Waffles, a Syracuse, New York restaurant staple.
This year, however, the team has faced a more laborious tapping process due to the below average temperatures and heavy snowfall that has plagued upstate New York for the past month.
“Right now, we’re at about 900 taps and if the snow wasn’t waist deep in spots, we would be done by now,” Dan said. “A lot of time during the winter you get some snow melt, but once the snow has come, it’s stayed.”
Beasley said that the team has considered using snowshoes, but they have proved to be just as exhausting as trekking trough the snow without them because of the depth and the sandy consistency of the snow.
The New York State maple industry is estimated to be a valued at $25 million, with more than 650 members within the New York State Maple Producers Association but it is estimated that there are at least 1,500 producers statewide. New York State is second only to Vermont in producing maple products nationwide.
Dwayne Hill, president of the New York State Maple Producers Association and owner of Shaver Hill Farms in Harpersfield, New York, said that they haven’t even begun to tap trees because of the snow and the frozen sap within the trees.
“It’s not going to put us behind. It’s just going to make the season a bit shorter,” Hill said. “Last year some producers made a little syrup in February, then it froze up for the whole month of March and most of the crop of syrup was made in April. Every year is different.”
In addition this season, a new grading system has been introduced to producers worldwide. For the last 15 years, the North American Maple Syrup Council has been working to establish a uniform system for grading maple syrup quality because each producing region has followed their own. As of January 1, all producers are now required to use the same grading.
Maple weekends will take place statewide March 21, 22, 27 and 28 with producers having open houses of their establishments. The weekends include tours, demonstrations, product sampling and pancake breakfasts. But until then, producers will have to worry about getting sap out of the trees.
“Because it’s been so cold for so long, the warmth is going to come,” Dan said. “As long as spring is slow and we get some nice cool nights and decently warm days, we can have a great season.”