By Jef Rietsma
It may not be a good season for maple syrup production, but that didn’t seem to bother an estimated 300 people who attended an open house at Butternut Creek Sugar Shack in mid-March.
The event at the Mendon-area site was organized by maple syrup producer Terry Moyer, his family and friends. The event was part of a statewide observance of Michigan Maple Syrup Weekend, to help promote the state’s maple-syrup industry.
The two-day statewide event was organized by the Michigan Maple Syrup Association. “It’s the third year the association has had the weekend and it’s our third time participating,” Moyer said. “It seems to get better and better every year in terms of how it’s publicized and the number of people who show up, so I’m glad to see Michigan maple syrup being promoted … there are about 200 producers in Michigan, so there’s a lot of representation. We just need the weather to cooperate.”
He said this year and last have not been good for the industry. Ideal weather conditions would see the temperature hit 40 in the daytime and in the 20s at night. Nighttime temperatures have stayed consistently in the 30s the past week, throwing the 2015 maple-syrup season for a loop.
Moyer produced a personal record 164 gallons of maple syrup in 2013, the highest since he started tracking output in 2006. A year ago, despite tapping even more trees than usual, the production dropped to 108 gallons which has been about his usual volume. Through this past weekend, Moyer said he has generated four gallons and he is not optimistic about reaching 100 gallons in 2015.
“You can have all the best equipment and tap 500 trees, as we have this season, but that overnight temperature in the 30s is a killer,” he said.
If Moyer was bothered about the situation, he concealed it well during the gathering at his Flach Road operation. He recruited help from friends who made pancakes, cooked sausage links, and manned reservoirs of milk and orange juice.
Hoping to recoup the out-of-pocket expenses for food and drink, Moyer had for sale maple syrup in a variety of bottle sizes. The largest quantity, a gallon, was going for $48.
Business was good and Moyer said he was pleased to see such an interest in his hobby.
“I work two full-time jobs, one at American Axle and the other is a side business as owner of TM Asphalt,” he said. “So the maple syrup work is definitely a hobby.”
He said it is a pastime that demands a number of hours due to its nature. It takes time to pierce the trees for sap collection, then more time is needed to collect the four-gallon bags into which the sap accumulates.
That, he said, is just the beginning of the process. His processing area is in a standalone building from which a sweet smell and thick cloud of steam spread. The wood-fired stove has received an upgrade in recent years, which has sped up the processing pace.
Moyer, 56, started making maple syrup when he was 14 thanks to his grandfather’s affinity for the chore. He resumed the activity about 12 years ago. Now, Moyer taps trees on the 44 acres he owns and a 70-acre area that was offered to him for sap-collecting purposes.
Much like Moyer when he was a young man, 9-year-old Justin Plankenhorn of Vicksburg would like to start making maple syrup. The youngster said he enjoyed hearing his dad talk about collecting sap when the elder Plankenhorn was younger.
Will Plankenhorn said the day proved a good opportunity to show his son what is involved.
“I did it with my folks when I was just about Justin’s age and just this week he asked me about it,” Plankenhorn said. “We saw this event featured in the South County News and decided we’d get out here right away. I’m glad we did.”
Plankenhorn said he and his son have tapped about eight trees this year, which are yielding a small amount of sap.
Moyer said he taps no more than three lines into a tree and always taps a new area in subsequent years. Out of 500 taps this season, he expects to collect about 800 gallons of sap.
“But then again, the way things are going so far this season, that might be a little too optimistic,” Moyer said. “We’ll see.”
Butternut Creek Sugar Shack is located at 24890 Flach Road. Its phone number is 496-7082.