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Sapping season continues as producers hope for successful yield despite variable weather

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KNAPP (WQOW) -- Maple syrup producers used to start cooking the sap they collected from trees around this time of year.

Now, one Western Wisconsin maker warns you could miss out on a lot of syrup if you start tapping or cooking too late.

"Traditionally, the first boil is march 17 to mid-April. Nowadays, if you wait until the third week of March, you're season could be halfway done," Owner of Knapp Hills Sugar Bush Todd Thompson said.

"With the warm weather, you got to stay ahead of it. It's a guessing game because if you go you drill all those holes tap too early, they say they can dry up. It's like getting a cut on your arm: You want the tap hole to produce as much sap and be fresh as possible."

Thompson has been tapping trees since he was 5-years-old.

"We tapped up behind the cooker, and it just ran downhill. Back then, we would gather with buckets and pails on steep sidehills," he said.

Now, he has reduced labor by incorporating a pressurized cooker into his process and creating a system of pipes that collect the sap from the trees.

"This machine, if I start with raw sap out of the tree and two percent sugar, will actually take it to 20% concentrate. Season average last year for us, was I think, 34 some gallons of syrup per hour," he said.

"Raw sap out of a tree is 2% sugar 98% water. All you're doing is you're starting with raw sap, and you're evaporating the water out of the sap. Typically the quicker you can take it from the tree and process it into syrup, you'll have a lot better product."

Compared to big box store syrup brands, that cannot be marketed as pure maple syrup, what Thompson cooks is pure maple syrup.

"You could go to a different [local] producer, and you're still getting pure maple syrup, but it may taste a little different. It all depends on the freshness of sap, the quality of cleanness. There are a lot of variables," he said.

The pandemic not only impacted Thompson's cash sales last year, but it has also made finding plastic containers to bottle the syrup harder. He said the producer he usually buys from, burned down in a fire.

Now, all the plastic manufacturers he reached out to explained their plastic is being used to make syringes. To adapt, he began bottling in glass containers shaped like maple leaves.

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Stephanie Rodriguez

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