Anyone who enjoys the taste of real maple syrup has to be encouraged by what is going on in the industry, several of those involved said.

With temperatures expected to be in the 40s during the day coupled with freezing nights for the rest of the week _ the type of weather that is needed to get sap flowing _ a couple of local maple producers are hoping this will be a good year. At Baker's Maple in Bainbridge, owner Reed Baker said the season started March 1 with the first syrup produced March 6.

"We're off to a good start," he said.

The light amber color is typical for the sap this early in the season, he said. If the daytime temperatures continue to rise, it'll be darker, with a stronger maple flavor, he said.

"This year is more of a normal (weather) pattern than we've seen in recent years," Baker said.

With about 4,500 taps out, the recent average output of the farm has been about 1,500 gallons for the season, but "it's entirely up to the weather."

The season typically lasts about four weeks, he said. But it will continue until either the necessary weather pattern stops, trees bud or the tap holes close up.

"We're overdue for a good year," he said. "The week's weather makes me optimistic."

Dwayne Hill, a partner in the family business Shaver-Hill Farms in Harpersfield and a vice president of the state Maple Producers Association, said this week's weather is expected to really get the tap flowing.

Although the season got off to a slow start, he said, the upcoming weather predictions have made him hopeful that "this will be a good season."

The last couple of years haven't been that productive, but he said "it goes in cycles. It all depends on Mother Nature."

He said he did not think that climate change has been a factor.

With about 38 gallons of sap resulting in one gallon of syrup, he expected the farm's 7,000 taps will produce about 2,000 gallons of syrup, he said.

Producers throughout the state are looking for a good year, said state Agriculture Commissioner Patrick Hooker. The approximately 1,500 maple farmers are collecting the state's first agricultural product of the year.

With revenue of $8.02 million, the state is the third-largest producer behind Vermont and Maine.

The state industry will be holding maple weekend on March 29-30 with special events planned at area producers.

A list of participating sugar houses is available at www.mapleweekend.com.

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