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Michigan maple syrup producers get big jump on season

'It doesn't really matter when it starts. It's just kinda whenever it works. All you can do is hope for the best. We are going to get what we get,' Mike Ross, owner of RMG/Michigan Maple Farms says

Maple syrup producers in the Eastern Upper Peninsula of Michigan got a jump on making the sweet stuff...weeks ahead of when they normally start.

The production usually starts around mid-March for producers in the Rudyard area including RMG/Michigan Maple Farms, Postma Brothers Sugar Bush and Besteman Sugar Bush.  All three are within a couple miles from each other.

The warm temperatures of late have the maple trees doing what they are supposed to do next month....that is, produce sap.

Due to the early start to the syrup season. R-M-G Michigan Maple Products has already produced 40% of their total output from last year.  They started producing syrup on Jan. 31.

In 2023, they produced 78 barrels of syrup.  In the last 10 days, the have already have around 30 barrels.

In a good year, they usually expect a solid 120 barrels.

Mike Ross, owner of R-M-G, says the schedule is all up to Mother Nature.

"It doesn't really matter when it starts, it would be nice for it to have it start with nice sunny 40 degree days and 28 or 27 degree nights. That hardly ever happens. It really doesn't matter when it starts. It's just kinda whenever it works. All you can do is hope for the best.  We are going to get what we get," Ross said.

Ross says they have been making syrup at their current location for 22 years, but have been in the business for 32 years. Back in 1992, he started with only 25 taps in the back yard.  Now he has around 12,000 taps on 140 acres of maple trees.

A very short two mile drive from RMG/Michigan Maple Farms to Postma Brothers Sugar Shack will bring you to a five generation family run business dating back to 1901.

Postma Brothers tap around 3,300 trees on 40 acres of land.

Kevin Postma, co-owner of Postma Brothers Sugar Shack, says their first boil was Feb. 7.  

"Our records go back to 1949 and the average first boil is March 20.  There has been two years that we boiled in February....1998 and 2017...on Feb. 23.  The advantage of boiling this early is that you get syrup when you normally wouldn't get syrup and you still might have a normal season come March 20.  The disadvantage is that you drill a hole early, there is a potential for that hole to close up early which happened in 1998. In 2017, the holes lasted through the middle of April," Postma said.

Postma said they are already at around 30% of last year's crop.

If there is any concern about tapping so early in the season causing damage to the maple trees, Postma believes there shouldn't be.

"I don't know if there is any scientific studies that would suggest that tapping maple trees early would damage them. You are going to drill a hole in the tree regardless whether on March 15 or Feb. 15 it shouldn't have any factor on the health of the tree over the course of the year," Postma explained.

The United States produces a total of approximately 4 million gallons of maple syrup annually according to the United States Department of Agriculture.

The United States produced 4.18 million gallons of maple syrup in 2023.

Michigan is ranked #5 in the nation in maple syrup production.  Vermont is #1, followed by New York, Maine and Wisconsin.

Consumers can help out local sugar bushes by buying local pure maple syrup and move Michigan up in those rankings.