By Alex Lippa
---- — It’s only the beginning of March, but Hank Peterson already knows this year’s supply of maple syrup will be better than last year’s.
Peterson, 80, owns Peterson’s Sugar House in Londonderry. He said the season is right on schedule this year.
“We’re all tapped out and we’ll get to boiling this weekend,” he said Friday.
Peterson produced just 60 gallons of syrup last year, due to unfavorable weather conditions. This year, he expects to produce about 125 gallons. Peterson estimated he puts out 800 taps each year.
“It all depends about the temperature,” he said. “We need warm temperatures during the day, and then need it to dip below freezing at night.”
Robyn Pearl, publicist for the New Hampshire Maple Producers Association, said it’s been an average start to the season.
“Temperatures have been cooperating,” Pearl said. “We could use a little more sunshine, but each year is going to be different.”
It is already better than last year. Peterson said warm temperatures this winter meant he tapped much earlier than he would have preferred.
“It’s tough because we have literally no control over it whatsoever,” Peterson said. “It’s all up to Mother Nature.”
Pearl said the state produced about 90,000 gallons of syrup last year. That was a far cry from 2011, when the state’s producers made 125,000 gallons. It’s impossible to forecast production from year to year, she said.
“It’s frustrating because there is no way of telling what will happen,” she said. “Once the leaves come out, it’s done.”
Brian Folsom, owner of Folsom’s Sugar House in Chester, said he is fortunate he has already started tapping.
“It’s been a more traditional start this year,” Folsom said. “We’ve been tapping since mid-February.”
Both Folsom and Peterson said the heavy snow the area received in February is no hindrance to tapping,
“I love the snow,” Peterson said. “I wish there was another foot or two on the ground.”
Folsom said the recent rain made it easier to get around in the woods.
“We will just put our snowshoes on and just get out there,” Folsom said.
Despite last year’s disappointing season, Pearl said commercial sales are at $6 million, up from $5 million just a couple of years ago.
“There are more sugar makers and more trees are being tapped,” she said. “The technology being implemented has helped a lot. It will make the sap run faster.”
Pearl said the average cost per gallon is between $55 and $60.
Folsom doesn’t sell anything larger than a half gallon, which is priced at $34.95.
“The cost of fuel has increased, which has changed everything so dramatically,” Pearl said.
Peterson credited the state’s Department of Agriculture for the increase in revenues.
“Their ‘Buy Local’ program has made people more aware of natural foods,” he said. “People are going out of their way to buy organic and all-natural foods.”
The New Hampshire Maple Producers Association hosts an open sugarhouse weekend March 23-24. Visit nhmapleproducers.com for a list of participating sugar houses.