DUMMERSTON >> Some maple syrup producers got an early start this winter.
"It's definitely the earliest here," said Mike Euphrat, head of maple production at Bunker Farm and co-owner along with his wife, sister-in-law and brother-in-law. "It was really good for us. We were hoping to get 10 percent of a normal expected crop. It was a really surprisingly good week of weather for how early it was."
Altogether, 245 gallons of syrup were produced in about six days starting on Jan. 24. The decision to start early came after the long range forecast was calling for a stretch of days well above freezing, dipping down into lower temperatures at nights.
While it is only the third year of tapping into maple trees at the farm, Euphrat said early February usually doesn't see such warm weather and for such extended periods of time. This year's operations started two or maybe three weeks earlier.
"We probably wouldn't have tapped so early but we saw the water coming and decided it was not so early," Euphrat said on Tuesday, Feb. 9. "We'd probably be tapping this week."
Vermont Maple Sugar Makers' Association Executive Director Matthew Gordon said some other sugar makers have made maple syrup already and some have even produced in decent volumes.
"It's not uncommon these days for January or February thaws to occur and for producers to be bale to boil some volume of syrup," he said. "I don't know how much syrup has been made this year so it's too early to say how the season will shape up."
Euphrat is no stranger to the business. He also worked at CE Maple in Putney, where trees are tapped earlier due to the size of their operation.
Bunker Farm has 3,300 trees it taps. CE Maple has closer to 25,000 trees.
"On that scale, you have to start tapping early," said Euphrat. "But we definitely never saw a sap run this early of this quantity when I was working there. I don't think we ever started in January."
At Bunker Farm, Euphrat will usually watch the weather and wait to see when the right conditions are anticipated. Then he'll tap accordingly.
"It's not so different than in other years. It just happened much earlier," he said. "It looks like we'll head back into some wintry weather in this first week of February. I guess only time will tell what the rest of the season looks like."
New technology used there helped, too. The risk is lessened with vacuum pumps and sterile spouts. This equipment helps ensure the tap holes don't dry out.
Traditionally, producers have used gravity systems in which the sap tends to linger inside of the tree, said Euphrat. That triggers a response from the tree to close the tap and start the healing process.
With the widespread adoption of both tubing systems and vacuum pressure within those systems, Gordon said sap can be more readily collected when there are early thaws.
"In the past, when buckets were still the norm, producers would not have set out taps and buckets yet," he said. "And so these thaws would have produced very little syrup."
Every tree at Bunker Farm was tapped, said Euphrat, after debating whether to go ahead so early. There was the possibility that he could lose some production on the back end of the season.
"We just went for it," he said. "We look at it as a calculated risk but we're obviously very happy with the amount we made in this early run."
Bunker Farm sells its syrup at Harlow Farm's Vermont stand at the Boston Public Market and at North End Butchers in Brattleboro. Local restaurants also purchase its products.
Running pretty low from last year, Euphrat was happy to restock and said he will continue to sell retail from the farm at 857 Bunker Road in Dummerston. Still, he longed for colder days.
"I hope we go back into winter here and then come out with a nice normal weather pattern for maple syrup," he said.
As long as the temperatures do not get too warm for too long, Gordon said early thaws do not seem to pose any real risk to the season.
"However, because we're so dependent on the traditional spring-time freeze-thaw cycles that produce optimal sap flow conditions, it's also too early to say that because syrup has been made early that the season will be a good one," he said. We still have to wait and see what the weather will be like over the next two to three months."