Maple Syrup with Bill and Kim Owen

Bill and Kim Owen explain the struggles they've had on their syrup farm in Indiana. They also show us the process of collecting the sap and making the maple syrup!

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Rachel Von | The Journal Gazette
Kim Owen of Maple Acres in Noble County stirs the boiling sap as it reduces to maple syrup.

Vortex puts its spin on maple syrup run

Rachel Von | The Journal Gazette
Ned Ragan taps a tree for sap to make maple syrup at the home of Bill and Kim Owen in Noble County.

Hold the pancakes. Indiana’s maple syrup production is moving about as slow as molasses.

Yes, another setback to blame on the polar vortex.

In fact, the frigid winter has put many states several weeks behind in harvesting the sap that’s boiled down to make the breakfast staple. Wisconsin, New Hampshire, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts all report late starts. For the first time the sap refused to flow this month at the annual Maple Syrup Fest in Genoa, Ill.

Locally, maple trees usually are tapped in mid-February, if not earlier, to begin the process. By mid-March most of the sap has been boiled down and producers are wrapping things up. But for sap to flow, daytime temperatures need to be in the low 40s, with nighttime lows in the 20s. The vortex thwarted those plans.

Even last week temperatures dipped to halt production after it had barely begun.

Bill and Kim Owen, who own Maple Acres in Noble County, average 500 to 550 gallons of syrup a year. So far they have about half of that. For the first time, they bought and used snowshoes to get to their trees.

“As long as we get some freeze-thaw patterns in the weather we hope to get another few good runs,” Kim Owen said in an email. “We can honestly say we’ve never worked so hard for so long for so little.”

Many people don’t expect the record quantities they harvested the last couple of years. Working a small operation of 10-plus acres in Huntington County, John and Deloris Smith made 55 gallons of syrup last year, a record for them. Last week they had 8 gallons, Deloris Smith said.

“I don’t know if it’s going to pick up again running next week or how long it’s going to last,” she said. “It’s completely up to Mother Nature.”

About 42 gallons of sap are needed to produce a gallon of syrup, according to the Indiana Department of Natural Resources. The average retail price for a gallon last year was $40.52. Maple syrup is an estimated $1 million industry in Indiana.

The Indiana Maple Syrup Association lists 61 Hoosier syrup producers on its website, IndianaMapleSyrup.org.

While the state produced 70 percent more maple syrup in 2013 than the previous year, the 22,405 gallons made last year makes Indiana a small producer. Compare that to Ohio’s 155,000 gallons, Wisconsin’s 265,000, Maine’s 450,000, New York’s 574,000 and Vermont’s 1.3 million.

Vermont’s syrup industry is valued at $26.6 million, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“Last year was a banner year,” said Jeff Settle of Indiana’s Department of Natural Resources forest division.

“I don’t think this will be a good year, but you never know.”

Richard Enfield, who taps about 500 trees in Steuben County, had 180 gallons of syrup last year, a record for him. A normal year is 90 to 100 gallons. He had 40 gallons early last week.

The fourth generation of syrup producers, Enfield sells to individuals by word of mouth.

Enfield said he has orders now for about 135 gallons, so “We’re going to be short, is what we’re going to be.”

rshawgo@jg.net

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