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Maple producers diversify following tough season

Published: Sep. 27, 2021 at 8:03 AM EDT
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JERICHO, Vt. (WCAX) - This past sugaring season wasn’t all that great and some sugar-makers didn’t even tap their trees. So how did they stay afloat?

While it’s just fall and we aren’t in the maple season, there are plenty of people thinking about it.

The hardest part is no matter how much you plan, years like this year just happen because you are bound to what nature wants to do.

“It was primarily a matter of circumstance,” said Paul Palmer, with Palmer Lane Maple.

For the Palmers, if any year was one to take off, it was this one.

“So I decided not to tap my trees this year and give them a year off, and it has really worked out well,” Paul said.

Paul says it has been their other products that have kept them moving, especially creemees. That diversity, along with good relationships with other sugar-makers, kept them afloat in a year of low product.

“Maple is an agricultural product, you have to deal with weather, and it’s a natural biological system,” said Mark Isselhardt, the maple specialist for the UVM Extension.

The bottom line is bad years happen, and this year happened to be one of those with a quick warming spring and not ideal weather.

“The weather and that sap sweetness were probably the two biggest factors in production and yield,” said Isselhardt.

Not so sweet and not so much isn’t too painful at this point, although Isselhardt says we are seeing a slight uptick in product pricing depending on your supplier and location.

“We have seen an increase in tubing and taps for next year,” said Isselhardt.

Isselhardt says that could be one way farmers are trying to get out ahead and make sure lightning doesn’t strike twice with two bad years.

Back in Jericho, business has still been booming in creemees and other value-added products, so next year is still up in the air.

“I often say I can buy syrup cheaper than I can produce it because I am such a small producer,” said Paul.

If he goes that route, he also gets to support other local sugar producers. But he does love it, he says it’s in his blood so no decision has been made. And we haven’t even hit winter and with the holidays coming, they are focused on making it through.

“Support, not just the maple industry, but just buy local, across the state,” said Colleen Palmer with Palmer Lane Maple.

Of course, we have been hearing about supply chain shortages throughout the pandemic, something the Palmers say they haven’t been immune to.

Through COVID-19, supply chains have been bearing the brunt of workforce issues, labor shortages and issues getting hands on products. That has Palmer Lane Maple warning people now to start thinking ahead so gifts make it places on time.

They say the maple they can get their hands on should still be able to get through the holiday season. But things like glass containers or shipping materials can get disrupted, meaning if you want to send some of Vermont’s finest product, the Palmers say better to get it out the door early.

“We had syrup, we had syrup on hand from three bumper years. The syrup supply is good, the container supply is another issue. So there are lots of aspects of the pandemic that we wouldn’t have expected. A shortage on containers, a shortage on glass, incredibly long shipping times, we were seeing that last year,” said Colleen.

The Palmers say they already have seen an increase in maple sales and candy sales they think are directly related to people already starting to think about the holidays.

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