Nova Scotia maple producers facing weeks of cleanup after ice storm
Farm owners say they need extra workers to clear sap lines
The province's recent ice storm has left some maple producers in Nova Scotia facing complicated and lengthy cleanups during a key season, and amid growing worldwide demand for the sweet syrup.
Chris Hutchinson and his wife, Anna, have owned Hutchinson Acres in Lake Paul, Kings County since 2004.
Their sugar bush, right in the middle of the province, got some of the heaviest amounts of freezing rain on Friday.
When they drove the roughly 11 kilometres from their home in East Dalhousie to check out the farm Saturday, Chris said he'd never seen "anything like it" in his life.
"It's just devastation everywheres, there's trees down, there's limbs down. So much of it is right in the tubing system," Chris said Sunday alongside Anna.
The couple have a large operation, with about 500 kilometres of tubing to deliver the sap from 60,000 taps.
The Hutchinsons aren't quite sure of the extent of their problems yet because they said it's been too dangerous to go into the heart of the 364-hectare farm, but what they can see is not good.
"Everything is just like your power lines, they're all sagging. And that's not good if you're trying to run a sugar bush," Chris said.
Although the tubing system is "resilient" and Chris said he's not too worried about the lasting damage on the lines, it will still take a long time to thaw and clear the leftover sap and ice frozen within the tubes.
And since the sap is running now, Chris said the storm has come at the worst time. He hopes to bring the sap lines back into operation in the next few weeks, but has no idea when they'll be fully operational.
"It boils down to just a massive amount of labour to come in and to clean it up … it's just a big task," Chris said.
Anna said they are in need of lots of workers with chainsaw experience to venture into the snowy forest and clear limbs and trees from the sap lines.
They've received lots of response to their call out on social media, Anna said. She's hopeful they will soon have enough people to form multiple cleanup crews that can spring into action once the thaw begins.
Chris said it remains to be seen how much money and finished product the storm has cost them, but it will certainly make an impact as every drop of syrup counts amid rising demand.
They produce close to 136,000 kilograms of product per year, Chris said. But, he said, "we could have sold twice that last year."
In December, Quebec had to release about 22.7 million kilograms of syrup from its reserve system to keep up with demand.
About 300 kilometres away at the eastern end of the province, Jason Haverkort was surveying a similar scene at his Haveracres Maple Farm in Antigonish.
Taking a walk through the bush Sunday, Haverkort said trees were bent over with ice and the ground was littered with small branches and twigs.
"A lot of the new growth is gone, so I'm worried that when the sap runs that it's going to find its way out those broke-off branches and we're going to lose a fair bit of sap, I'd say," Haverkort said.
He also will be looking for extra help on the farm later this week once things thaw, and is hoping the wind stays down to prevent even more damage.
Their farm is a 12,000-tap operation where production varies from year to year depending on the weather, Haverkort said. They won't know the "exact severity" of the storm's impact on their operation until the season is over this spring, he said.
Canadian maple producers harvested 14.3 million gallons of maple syrup in 2020, resulting in total sales of $558.5 million up 7.9 per cent from a year earlier, according to numbers from the Maple Producers Association of Nova Scotia.
Nova Scotia produced about 56,000 gallons in 2020, which amounted to $2.8 million worth of sales.
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