GEAUGA COUNTY, Ohio — The Maple syrup business is a $5 million industry in Ohio, ranking fourth nationwide when it comes to producing syrup. But for the last two years, that syrup production, which on average is about 100,000 gallons a year in the state, has dried up, leaving businesses in a tough spot.
“The past two years have been a struggle. It’s a crop so it's all dependent on Mother Nature. We had a poor syrup season last year. Just too warm weather, too volatile, too dry,” said Jen Freeman, president of Richard’s Maple Products in Geauga County.
As far back as Freeman can remember, she has always wanted to carry on the family tradition, dating back to 1910.
“It’s the only thing I’ve ever done.. the only thing I’ve ever wanted to do," Freeman said.
The shorter harvest season, less sugar production and unreliable sap flow are the biggest reasons for the sharp decline in syrup stats.
"I know once spring hits everyone is ready for nice weather, they’re ready for their flowers to come up. But we need the freeze-thaw. We need snow cover. Trees need moisture to really get that sap throwing," she explained.
She said the time of year syrup is harvested will dictate what type of syrup her business can produce and sell.
"The first part of the season makes for a very light very mild flavor syrup," she said. "And as the season progresses, it makes for a darker and stronger flavor syrup. We essentially started out as a medium or a dark grade, and it stayed that way."
But because of the shortage, Freeman said she had to look elsewhere to make up the gap in sap. However, it’s not as simple as scooping it up from other syrup producers.
“It also means we have to pay more to get what we want and what we need,” she said.
Despite a troubling season, Freeman said it's critical to maintain their high standards for syrup that Northeast Ohio has come to know and love.
"It’s gotta pass grades, color and most importantly the flavor test to go into any jugs or products," she said.
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