Tapping trees for maple syrup is not for the faint of heart.
After farmers attach their spigots in mid-February to early March, they have only six weeks to drain the sap. If the weather is too cold for decent production, as it was this year, the effect can be devastating.
Some New England farmers say the brutal winter would cut into their yields by up to 50 percent this year.
Ben Kezar, the owner of Valley View Maple Farm in Springfield, N.H., said maple syrup harvesting is the riskiest of any agricultural business.
“There’s a saying, if you want to have fun, go to Las Vegas. If you want to gamble, make maple syrup,” Kezar said.
To drain sap from trees, farmers need specific conditions.
Temperatures must be above freezing during the day and below freezing at night. That allows the sap to warm up during the day and rise, pouring through the taps into buckets. The cold at night helps keep the syrup in place. If it is too warm, the syrup will rise too high, making the tree blossom, Kezar and other farmers said.
In Massachusetts this year, temperatures in March, the busiest month for maple farmers, were 6.7 degrees colder than normal, said Bill Simpson, a spokesman for the National Weather Service.
In New Hampshire, it was 7.5 degrees colder than usual for the month, he said.
With the sap too cold to rise, Kezar said, he was able to get only 50 percent of the syrup he ordinarily gathers. When syrup is your main source of income, that is a problem, he said.
“It’s going to be a rough year,” he said. “We have to tighten up our belts.”