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Dan Kraker, Minnesota Public Radio, Published May 06 2013

Long winter means high maple syrup yield in Minn.

DULUTH, Minn. – The seemingly never-ending winter might have Minnesotans grumbling, but for one small group of people, the weather has been pretty close to perfect. Many maple syrup producers are reporting record harvests.

In northern Minnesota, the conditions have been miserable of late, with temperatures barely above freezing – and cold, misting rains dampening the forest about six miles inland from Lake Superior.

But Dave Rogotzke is happy, really happy.

“Every storm that came along, I just took great delight in every storm, because we produced these abundant crops,” he said. “I told so many friends I had to be the happiest guy in Duluth.”

On a windowsill, Rogotzke displays bottles of syrup from each day of the winter the sap ran. Each bottle is labeled with that day’s weather conditions: record snowfall, snowstorm, brilliant sunshine.

“All those snowstorm days yielded large production days for us, because it was above freezing, and it was low pressure,” he said. “We had big days.”

Those big sap days result from the same weather that draws howls of protest from most elsewhere. Temperatures that drop below freezing at night but then warm up – sort of – during the day, frees the sap to run.

Rogotzke said this is the most syrup he has produced in 13 years.

“Our crop this year, at this point, we’re sitting at 1,204 finished gallons of syrup. My previous best had been about 1,100 gallons,” he said. “Who knows, we might get a day or two yet to add to that record.”

Other producers across northern Minnesota are experiencing similarly sweet seasons.

“We’ve been getting reports from members around the state,” said Stu Peterson, president of the Minnesota Maple Syrup Producers Association. “We’re just hearing everybody has had a really long, lengthy and very productive season.

“We just came out of winter under ideal circumstances for maple producers. It was long and slow. In sharp contrast to last year, when within about a 10-day period we went from March to June weather.”

But the record April snowfall also hurt some syrup producers.

Jerry Jacobson, who uses buckets to collect sap from some of the 2,000 trees he taps in Vergas, near Detroit Lakes, uses an ATV to collect them. But there was so much snow when the sap started running, he couldn’t get to the buckets.

“In fact, we had a lot of containers that were running over,” he said. “We could have lost maybe a third of our sap as a result of not being able to go get it,” he said.

Jacobson said he will probably end up with 350 gallons of syrup – an average year for him.

“If we had been able to get all the maple sap I’m sure it would have been our best year ever,” he said.

Still, Jacobson is not complaining, especially after last year, when the record warm spring caused the worst year in memory for syrup production.

Now, like all Minnesotans, he looks forward to seeing buds on his trees – a sign the syrup season is over and spring is truly here.