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Dave Olson, Published March 21 2012

How sweet it isn't: Syrup harvest drop in bucket compared to those after colder winters

CALLAWAY, Minn. - In a good year, JoDan Rousu and his extended family can expect to get more than 200 gallons of refined maple syrup out of the family’s maple tree farm near here.

This is not a good year.

“We’ve been producing maple sugar commercially for 40-plus years, and this is quite possibly the strangest season we’ve ever seen,” Rousu said.

He said they will be lucky to bottle 40 or 50 gallons of syrup from the harvest, which is wrapping up this week on the farm about 50 miles east of Fargo.

The problem is optimum sap flow occurs when overnight temperatures drop to the 20s and daytime temperatures reach the lower 40s, a situation that sets up a kind of pump action within the trees, Rousu said.

With the recent balmy temperatures both night and day, sap has been dribbling into collection bags. Now that trees are starting to bud, the sap being tapped is subpar, signaling the end of the syrup season.

For the Rousus, there will be enough maple syrup to fill the family’s own cupboards, but little left over to sell.

The situation is taking some of the gleam off the Maple Syrup Fest scheduled March 31 in Vergas, about 15 miles south of Detroit Lakes.

Because fresh syrup is scarce, the sweet stuff poured over pancakes that day will be stock from past seasons, said Tom Olson, who is coordinating the 12th annual festival this year with his wife, Karen.

Jake’s Syrups and Natural Products is a supplier of syrup for the festival as well as dozens of specialty shops scattered across Minnesota lakes country.

Owner Jerry Jacobson said with this year’s local maple syrup harvest down perhaps 75 percent from a typical year, it will mean fewer products sold to area businesses.

But though it appears syrup production is low from Minnesota to Michigan, Jacobson said it’s unlikely syrup prices will be affected.

Canada, Jacobson said, hasn’t experienced the same temperature issues as the United States, and Canadians, he added, “supply the world’s syrup.”

The dearth of local syrup this spring is in stark contrast to last year, when producers experienced an embarrassment of riches.

Maple syrup production usually lasts about two weeks, but Rousu said there seemed to be no end to last year’s ample sap flows.

“We ran for three weeks,” he said.

“We actually had to stop (production),” he added. “We ran out of containers.”


Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Olson at (701) 241-5555