Sugar shacks throughout the state have gotten an early jump on maple syrup production this year, with producers hoping to rebound from a difficult 2015.

“I think people are hopeful that it’s going to be a better season,” said John Bott, spokesman for the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry. “But we’ll produce whatever the weather allows us to produce.”

The ideal weather for maple syrup production is temperature below freezing overnight and above freezing during the day.

Mike Meagher, who operates Maine-iac Maple Farm in Richmond, throws more wood into the fire box under the evaporator Tuesday. He was tapping the 200 maple trees on his 15-acre property earlier than usual this year, after a dismal 2015.

Mike Meagher, who operates Maine-iac Maple Farm in Richmond, throws more wood into the fire box under the evaporator Tuesday. He was tapping the 200 maple trees on his 15-acre property earlier than usual this year, after a dismal 2015. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Photos by Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

Mike Meagher who operates Maine-iac Maple Farm in Richmond with his wife, Alice, was tapping the 200 maple trees on his 15-acre property earlier than usual this year.

“It’s normal that (March) is the month that works, but we started the last week of February,” Meagher said from his sugar shack at 56 Mitchell Road. “We are a small producer, and it was early for us.”

Meagher, 68, said some producers in other parts of the state took advantage of a warm spell in late January and “put their taps in and got an early run,” but then there was another freeze, so he kept his taps out.

Last year, Meagher said, he was able to produce some syrup, despite the poor conditions driven by heavy snow and bitter cold, but only about half of what he’d normally make.

“There was just so much snow and it was so cold,” he said. “It was so cold for a while, and then it just ended. Once it got too warm and the buds started to come out on the trees, everyone was done.”

Lyle Merrifield typically taps about 600 trees per year. He’s also the president of the Maine Maple Producers Association, and he said the community is excited about the prospects for this season.

“I think producers are more optimistic because we started better (than last year),” Merrifield said by phone from his farm in Gorham. “We are hoping the season holds on for another couple of weeks.”

The majority of Merrifield’s business – and that of other producers in the state – occurs on the fourth Sunday in March, Maine Maple Sunday. This year, the 33rd annual event happens to fall on Easter, but Merrifield doesn’t see that as a bad thing.

Bottles of maple line a shelf oat Maine-iac Maple Farm in Richmond.

Bottles of maple line a shelf oat Maine-iac Maple Farm in Richmond. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

“Obviously it’s not ideal, but many of us have had Maine Maple Sundays on Easter in the past, and we have noticed very little decrease in the amount of business,” he said. “Some people are happy to have something else to do with their families that day.”

Maine Maple Sunday is a showcase for the production of syrup around the state. Sugarhouses – about 100 across the state – host visitors, sometimes numbering in the thousands, Meagher said, and offer tours, demonstrations and free samples.