Abnormal snowfall this winter may have made the season a pain for many Connecticut residents, but it's shaping up to be a boon for local maple syrup producers. Aea farmers have sap flows they haven't seen in years. Ron Wenzel's sugar house is a little oasis each winter. "My wife calls this my man cave; I'm up here for 10, 12 days," he says.
Every year around this time, he holes up in the wooden shed behind his house for a few weeks. Inside, it's warm from the maple-scented steam that billows out of his big evaporator. It holds 35 gallons of sap and produces just over a gallon of syrup per hour. "So what I'm doing here is I'm watching water boil; ya'll be watching it with me," he laughs.
Today Wenzel is talking to attendees at the Hebron Maple Syrup Festival. The annual weekend event celebrates maple heritage in this small town. Wenzel's been in the business for a quarter century and he says he's excited about the prospects for this season. "Last year at this time I was done. Didn't know it though, but I was done. Literally, I was done," he says.
A buzzer sounds, which means it's time for Wenzel to stoke the raging fire below the evaporator tank. Every five minutes the buzzer goes off, and every five minutes he has to add more logs. The crowd "oohs" and "ahhs" at the sight of the white-hot flames needed to keep the machine boiling. Wenzel is on a roll this year and he has the weather to thank. The record snowfall buffered tree roots against cold air. It also kept constant moisture in the ground. He started tapping trees around President's Day this year and is still going strong. Last Friday, he collected 800 gallons of sap in a single day. And he made more syrup this weekend alone than he did all of last season.
Rick Macsuga is with Connecticut's Department of Agriculture. He says the unusual weather this winter should continue to benefit producers. "Very odd year," Macusga says. "We need days above 40 and nights below freezing and we had a lot of that in February, coming into March." Macsuga says that of the 10 syrup-producing states in the country, Connecticut makes the least. But he says it's a lucrative business. "We do actually get the highest price per gallon of syrup of any other New England state," Macsuga says.
That's because nearly all of it can be sold locally. He says syrup sales amount to a $500,000-700,000 a year industry here. The last time sap flows were this good was three years ago when Mother Nature cooperated, Macsuga says. "We actually had a very very long run of approximately six weeks that year so we got a very, very good yield," he says. Macsuga expects farmers like Wenzel to do well again.