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Tapping underway in anticipation of maple syrup season in eastern Ontario

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Sugar bushes in eastern Ontario are eagerly awaiting the season of sap flowing, and it could be early this year.


Maple syrup season usually begins in March, but Shirley Fulton-Deugo, owner of Fulton’s Sugar Bush and Maple Shop in Pakenham, Ont., spoke to Newstalk 580 CFRA’s “Ottawa Now with Kristy Cameron” on Monday, saying tappers are already out this week and she anticipates starting to see a flow in just a few days.


“We’ve got a crew of very energetic young men out there. Looks like possibly Thursday we’re going to get the sap running,” she said. “We need -5 at night to about +5 in the daytime, so we’re really, really close.”


Among them is Scott Deugo, who told CTV News Ottawa on Tuesday the sap will flow very soon.


“It’s going to start running shortly,” he said. “When you get those consistent, warm, above freezing days, the sap will flow and it will flow very well.”


The forecast bears this out. Environment Canada is predicting highs of around 5 C in eastern Ontario later this week.


Tappers in northern Ontario, too, are already seeing early production. Warmer weather this month has led to some sap already flowing in the Sault Ste. Marie area. 


Colder weather has moved into eastern Ontario in recent days, which Fulton-Deugo says she’s happy to see.


“We need the trees to go to sleep and have a bit of a rest before they wake up for the spring and it also gives us time to be totally tapped and ready for the sap to start running,” she said.


It takes about a week to get the trees tapped and the equipment needed to produce maple syrup going.


“And then we wait for the sap to run,” she said.


Maple syrup producers are coming off a five-year low in production. Statistics Canada said Canadian producers harvested 47.4 million litres of syrup in 2023, down 40.1 per cent from 79.1 million litres the year before. Poor weather conditions and shifting temperatures were to blame for the poor output last year.


Fulton-Deugo says hers is a business that relies heavily on the weather.


“Mother Nature is in charge,” she said. “Our seasons can vary so extremely from one year to the next. We are in a business where you definitely need to be a risk-taker because you really don’t have very much say over the actual volume of maple syrup that you make.”


She added that even the grade of the syrup — golden, amber, dark and very dark — is out of producers’ control.


“As they come from the tree, we boil it the very same and Mother Nature gives us a different type of sap to make all those different grades. Some years we make no golden, some years we make very little very dark,” she said.


Location, the direction the sugar bush faces, and the soil all contribute to maple syrup production, Fulton-Deugo said.


“If you have a north-facing bush, then those temperatures are colder,” she said. “The other thing that people are becoming more aware of now is that every area of Ontario makes a different flavour of maple syrup and it’s because of the soil. We are on limestone rock here in Lanark County. When you get into southwestern Ontario, where it’s deep, loamy soil, the flavour is very different.”


Fulton’s Sugar Bush and Maple Shop’s season began on Saturday. Its season will run until April 14.


–With files from CTV News Ottawa’s Peter Szperling.


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