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ELLSWORTH, Wis. - As the operator of a Maple Syrup business for more than 50 years, Lyle Stockwell will tell you the weather has been perfect for gathering sap: warm days and freezing nights. Perfect - if it weren't January 9.

Stockwell founded S & S Sugar Bush near Ellsworth, Wisconsin in 1959. Never has he experienced winter weather like this.

"This would be ideal for March weather," he says.

With Monday's temperatures reaching the upper 40s, Stockwell pointed to a thin broken branch on a maple tree dripping sap. "Because the weather's warm, that's what's doing it," he explains. "The tree wants to start to feed the buds."

Stockwell says it's too soon to say how the unseasonably warm winter might impact syrup production from his 900 - 1200 maples when the real spring comes. Weather this warm, for this long, is new territory for Lyle. "I've never seen a year when it's this warm in January. Even in December it was warm."

It is not too soon for winter wheat and alfalfa growers to be concerned. The bare ground could quickly become an issue if temperatures begin to plummet, since plants don't have the usual blanket of snow to protect them.

"I mean it looks like fall out here, and snow cover would be our best protection against losing that stand," says Greg Andrews, the University of Wisconsin Agriculture Extension Agent for Pierce County.

Snow would also bring much needed moisture to parched fields when it melts in the spring.

Hay may be short next summer, but watch out for the bugs. "In general terms a mild winter is going to be conducive for insect survival," says Jeff Hahn, U of M Extension Entomologist.

Two high profile pests may respond differently. Hahn says there is evidence that emerald ash borers begin to experience die-off when temperatures dip. "We're talking between 20, 25, 30 below," she says. None of that so far this year.

Meantime, those gardener-harassing Japanese beetles now wintering quite comfortably as grubs in the soil, could still get nipped if cold weather arrives without the protection of snow.

The warm winter could be good news for hunters, but bad for auto insurers. The warm weather is making living easy for deer. "It'll reduce mortality on the deer and increase the fitness of the fawns," says Steve Merchant, wildlife population program manager for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

Merchant was among the experts who pointed out that winter still has plenty of time to change course.

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