March is maple syrup season in Michigan

For a season that generally lasts only four to six weeks, Michigan can produce a sizable amount of syrup. In 2012 it was estimated that Michigan produced 65,000 gallons of maple syrup, 3 percent of the national total.

For most of Michigan, March is the heart of the maple syrup season – especially in northern lower Michigan.  But Michigan is a big state geographically.   Consequently, maple syrup producers in southern Michigan usually start tapping maple trees in late February. In contrast, many producers in the Upper Peninsula won’t start until weeks later.  But by mid- to late-March nearly  all syrup producers are busy collecting sap and boiling it down. Michigan State University Extension provides the following information about maple syrup production in Michigan and how it is a good example of a natural resource enterprise.

maple syrup season lasts only four to six weeks in the early spring when maple trees are dormant (i.e. before leaf buds swell and break open).  When daily temperatures start to consistently rise above freezing maple sap begins to push up from the roots into the upper portions of the tree.  Best sap flow takes place when temperatures drop below freezing at night, followed by above freezing temperatures during the

Seldom does the weather consistently give maple syrup producers this perfect combination of freezing-thawing temperature ranges.  Instead, most syrup seasons are characterized by a number of  small windows called “sap runs” where temperature ranges are ideal.  In some years, when temperatures are optimum, Michigan can produce many gallons of maple syrup. It did just this in 2011 when Michigan produced an estimated 123,000 gallons of syrup. That was the highest reported production on record for maple syrup in Michigan.

However, 2012 maple syrup production in Michigan  was lower and perhaps more typical of what Michigan experiences annually -- a reported 65,000 gallons of syrup. The temperature conditions across much of Michigan in the spring 2011 were abnormally higher than usual and maple sap flowed extremely poorly. However, many of the other maple-producing states also experienced poor weather and temperature conditions as well and Michigan finished 2012 as the seventh-highest producing maple syrup state in the nation.

Sugar maple trees – the best maple tree species to tap for syrup – grow throughout Michigan. In fact,  sugar maple is Michigan’s most common tree species and the northern hardwood forest type in which sugar maple grows covers about 5 million acres. Because of the size of this resource, especially in areas where it is privately owned, there is a potential to increase maple syrup production. However, a portion of Michigan’s maple tree resource grows on publically owned lands and may not be available for the commercial tapping and production of maple syrup.

Maple syrup is only one of many different types of natural resource enterprises produced in Michigan.  For more information on Michigan maple syrup, contact the Michigan Maple Syrup Association or the MSU Extension Bookstore where an inexpensive publication on making homemade maple syrup can be purchased.

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