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Maine maple producers tapping trees as high temperatures cause early runs

A tap at in a sugar maple on the property where Gray Jay Mapleworks operates.
Esta Pratt-Kielley
Maine Public file
A tap at in a sugar maple in April 2022.

With temperatures reaching into the 40s and 50s this week in southern and midcoast Maine, some maple syrup producers are tapping their trees and are already seeing early sap runs.

A few maple producers in southern Maine began tapping their trees back in January, before last week's extreme cold snap.

Jason Lillley with the University of Maine's Cooperative Extension says in recent years, the maple season has been gradually getting shorter and starting earlier. And while brief warm spells in January and February are relatively common, the extended periods of warm weather this winter mean that southern Maine maple producers are out working a bit earlier than usual.

"All of these changing weather patterns and weather extremes are having impacts on the tree health. And we as a research community are trying to figure out how that impacts the long-term viability of the individual trees but also the industry," he says.

Scott Dunn, owner of Dunn Family Maple in Buxton, began tapping his trees earlier this week. He says it's taken a few days for the trees to thaw out from last week's extreme cold, but expects to see a light to moderate sap run this weekend.

"Call it climate change, call it just anomalies, but it seems like the weather has been getting a little bit warmer. If you're not ready for the earlier sap runs you're missing part of your season. So by being ready for those, I mean producers are making 20% of their crop in January or February, which is a lot," he says.

Lilley says the conditions will not be right for some time for maple producers in northern Maine, where the season is usually at least one month behind the rest of the state.