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Warm weather has Quebec maple syrup producers starting early

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Monday's conditions were ideal for the sap to flow at maple syrup production companies in Quebec as sugar shacks get set to welcome guests for the iconic local product.

The warm winter this year has meant an earlier harvest season, with producers adapting to the warmer climate.

"Twenty years ago, we would have never been ready for this time of year," said Maple Syrup Producers Association Monteregie East regional president David Hall. "We had it in our head we'd start it on a date, and we wanted to be ready for that date and that date was the 10th of March and then the first of March, and now I want to be ready for the fifth of February."

Chalet des Erables owner Daniel Lauren said even with the warmer weather, his operation has done well in recent years.

"The weather so far is perfect," he said. "Some people would think that the temperature would affect our season, but we don't think so because last year we had a great season. We collected a lot of water, made a lot of syrup. This week, as you can see, when the temperature goes above zero degrees, it's what we need; then trees will start to pour some water, we collect, and overnight it needs to freeze."

The forecasted spike in temperatures this week, however, is a cause for concern for some.

"The warm spell that's coming has us all in our area, further to the south, on pins and needles," said Hall. "Too cold is not good, but too warm is worse. It just changes the sap chemistry and the quality of the syrup isn't quite as good."

Hall explained that bacteria grows exponentially when it's warm, but that modern technology has meant producers can weather erratic temperatures more than they could in the past.

"It seems that we have warmer spells and with the technology that we have today, we can harvest sap and we have the ability to process it," said Hall.

This year, Hall started Feb. 11 and last year on the 8th. Lauren said he had started producing much earlier than he had this year.

Weather in Quebec, Lauren added, is never predictable.

"I remember at Easter it was -30 about four-five years ago, -31 on April first," he said. "Who knows on April 1 what temperature we're going to have, maybe -30, plus five, who knows. I'm sure we're going to have a season just like the others." 

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