In each “Behind the Scenes” segment, Village Media's Scott Sexsmith sits down with one of our local journalists to talk about the story behind the story.
These interviews are designed to help you better understand how our community-based reporters gather the information that lands in your local news feed. You can find more Behind the Scenes from reporter across Ontario here.
Today's spotlight is on SooToday's Alex Flood, whose story "Area maple syrup producers ‘never had a year like this’" was published on Feb.1.
Below is the full story, in case you missed it.
Two of the area’s largest maple syrup producers are labelling the 2024 season as one of the most unusual in recent memory — and it hasn’t even technically started.
Above zero temperatures and mild conditions throughout the month of January have prompted Erica and Spencer Hogan at Hogan’s Homestead to begin the syrup making process, even though they’ve tapped into just half of their sugar bush.
“We’ve never had a year like this — it’s been crazy,” she said. “This is the earliest we’ve ever boiled. We have 36,000 gallons of good sap already over the last four or five days, and we’ve only tapped about half of our 30,000 trees. The fact we’re on the first day of February and I’ve got three full tanks ready to go, it’s insane.”
Hogan’s boiled a record-low 11 times between February and April, and they lost more than $50,000 worth of sap when a pair of 25-degree days in March spoiled thousands of gallons worth of product.
“Last year was an awful year for everybody, and I know for our operation, we could really use a good year,” Hogan said. “I have maybe 100 litres of syrup sitting on the shelf that is able to sell to get us through until we boil next. It’s kind of scary.”
While the start to this year has gone above and beyond what they’re accustomed to, Hogan noted she’s still preparing for the worst while hoping for the best.
“On one hand, we’re super excited with how much we’re producing, and we’ll be able to fill the shelves until the season starts,” she said. “But on the other end, what if the season doesn’t really start? I’m happy we’re solving one problem, but are we in a predicament where we should be preparing for the season not being great again?”
Eyeing a year-end goal of 200 barrels at 595 pounds apiece — twice as much syrup as they produced last year — the Hogans are looking forward to sharing their “liquid gold” with the community, including at upcoming events like the Bon Soo Winter Carnival as well as their new space at the Sault Ste. Marie Airport.
“It’s a tricky industry, but I wouldn’t change it for the world,” she said.
Meanwhile, Calvin Gilbertson from Gilbertson’s Maple Products on St. Joseph Island says his team has also begun tapping into their sugar bush of 40,000 trees.
While his trees are running with sap, Gilbertson admitted they’re not ready to begin the boiling process.
“We’re still getting prepared; it’s so early still,” he told SooToday. “We just started our tapping about two weeks ago, and that should be done by mid to end of February. We’re not really collecting anything right now.”
“If we get enough to boil, then we will boil the sap,” he added. “But right now, all that sap that’s running is cleansing the lines."
Hoping to produce 160,000 pounds of maple syrup by the end of the 2024 season, Gilbertson is optimistic his team will be able to start boiling this month.
But he notes that a quick start doesn’t guarantee the season will pass with flying colours.
“It’s not uncommon for the sap to run in January and early February, but I don’t remember too many years where we made syrup in February,” he said. “Going by the trend, I would say we can — but heck, who knows? We could get a freeze up and get our winter in February.”
“When we have an early season like the middle of February, we haven’t usually ended up with a good amount of product — it’s not a bumper year or anything,” he added. “Last year we made syrup in February, and it was one of our poorer years. We did just under three pounds per tap, and we’re hoping to do four pounds per tap this year.”
Although there’s been limited snowfall in recent weeks, Gilbertson explains that shouldn’t have much of an impact on this year’s production.
“I’m kind of liking the lack of snow,” he said. “I don’t know what it will do to the season, but it will have very little effect. It does allow you a little bit of modulating the temperature if you get higher ambient temperatures, but it doesn’t really play a role.”
“We’re hoping for a good season,” he added. “That’s all we can do, so we’ll see what the good Lord gives us.”