MILWAUKEE (AP) -- Wisconsin's maple syrup production has hit a 20-year high, increasing five-fold from last year when early warm weather cut the season short, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported Monday.
The state's farmers produced 265,000 gallons of syrup this year, compared to 50,000 gallons in 2012 and 155,000 in 2011. It was the most since the agency began tracking maple syrup production in 1992.
The key to this year's production boost was cool weather that extended late into spring. Sap runs when the nights are below freezing and the days are above, said Greg Bussler, spokesman for USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service office in Wisconsin. The average run this year in the state was 29 days, compared to 19 last year.
Overall, U.S. maple syrup production hit a record 3.25 million gallons this year, up from 1.91 million last year and 2.79 million in 2011, according to the USDA. Vermont is the nation's top syrup producer, followed by New York, Maine and Wisconsin.
Katrina Becker's family stopped collecting syrup after nine days last year at Stoney Acres Farm near Athens in central Wisconsin. This year, the sap ran for about a month.
The farm's maple syrup operation, overseen by her father-in-law Ed Schultz, produced just over 700 gallons of syrup, the most since Schultz bought the farm in the 1970s. Last year, they got about 165 gallons from their 2,500 trees.
"This year is the best year ever. Last year was the worst year ever," said Becker, 33.
The past four years have included two of the farm's best years and two of its worst, she said. With extreme weather becoming more frequent, the farm is holding on to 10 percent of this year's syrup in anticipation that next year could be bad.
Along with the long season, this year was notable for the high sugar content in sap. In Wisconsin, it took only 34 gallons of sap to make a gallon of syrup, down from 44 gallons last year, the USDA said.
Mike Jacque, 46, could see the difference at his farm in Thorp, also in central Wisconsin. His sap is usually about 2 percent sugar, but this year, it was nearly 3 percent. That jump means that instead of needing about 43 gallons of sap to make a gallon of syrup, he needed only about 30.
With a four-week season, he was able to make more than 800 gallons of syrup.
"This year was ideal," said Jacque, who taps 1,800 trees. "It was a long, steady flow."
The maple syrup season typically runs from the end of March to the end of April in Wisconsin. This year, it began in some areas on Feb. 15 and didn't end in others until May 28.
Jacque said he had some concerns early on because the temperature was dropping into the single digits at night and only briefly reaching the upper 30s in the afternoon. But then it warmed up to perfect conditions, which Jacque described as a nighttime temperature of around 32 degrees, before warming to 38 to 40 degrees by 10 a.m. so there's a long flow during the day.
Becker said the cooler temperatures also remedied quality issues her family struggled with last year. Bacteria multiply quickly in sap in warm weather, she said, and the trees' changing chemistry can affect the syrup's color and taste.
Two years ago, her family's syrup had a remarkable vanilla flavor that will likely be impossible to replicate, she said. But this year, she said, "has very, very nice flavor. I'd say not quite as good as two years ago, but very nice vanilla undertones."
The average retail price for a gallon of syrup in Wisconsin last year was $44.60, the USDA said. It did not provide a figure for this year.
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