Farming Magazine - February, 2009

SUGARING

Northeast Maple Business

The Maple Season Begins
By Larry Myott

January and February mark the beginning of the first harvest of the new year—the official opening of the new sugaring year. Sugaring began November and December in some areas. It usually begins in late January in some areas of southern New England, and perhaps Pennsylvania, Indiana and Ohio. In northern New England and northern New York, they are thinking about it. Ground Hog Day is a signal that spring is only six weeks away. The days are getting longer and the sun actually brings warmth—that means sugaring is on the way.

The maple syrup supply throughout the maple production world is nonexistent. Packers are waiting for the new crop—and hoping for a large crop. Last summer, fall and early winter, the price of bulk syrup jumped through the roof, with reports of all grades at $4 a pound, with as much as $4.40 per pound being discussed. Is this sustainable? Probably not, but it is creating a great rush to get more taps on line.

In Attica, N.Y., Lyle Merle’s family started sugaring in November. This longtime sugaring family is known as a leader in the industry. They tapped 4,500, set up the vacuum and went to work getting ready for the right weather conditions. By mid-December, they had made 180 gallons of great tasting and color syrup. Merle explained that his efforts were done with an eye towards sustainability, and noted that they were happy with this initial try.

In Fairfield, Vt., Dan and Gene Branon, along with Dan’s nephew Russell Senesac, decided to take advantage of the opportunity and do some experimenting. Around November 10, they each tapped 2,000 and got ready to make some syrup. As Dan reported, it’s a lot of work, and the return isn’t that great. The experiment may not be repeated. They were also concerned about the sustainability of the practice. The Branon Family boiled twice as of December 15, making about 300 gallons.

Dan says they would need a lot more taps to make it worthwhile, with a sap to syrup ratio of about 100 to 1. Merle reported the same number. Both sugar makers cited the declining fuel prices as playing a role in their decision to do this fall tapping experiment. More importantly, the price of syrup and the inadequate supply on the market were also considerations.

In early January 2008, Tom Branon of Branon Family Maple in Fairfield tapped a few thousand trees, and made his first syrup on January 13. This is not something for every sugar maker, but those with the technology can take these opportunities to enhance their business. Branon Family Maple will have about 60,000 taps in 2009. Their technology-filled sugarhouse is heated, making January and February boiling a possibility. Technology is also responsible for keeping the tap holes viable through the winter and into April. Sterile and sealed systems prevent bacteria from ending the season early.

Before the end of February, sugar makers will be very busy, with visions of maple profits dancing in their heads.

Vermont maple syrup needed for the Big E

The Vermont Maple Sugar Makers Association is asking Vermont maple producers to sell some of their 2009 crop to the association for the Big E in September. Sheila Masterson of Lincoln, co-manager of the sugarhouse in the Vermont building, says that sugar makers can call her at 802-453-7155. They need to purchase all grades, and only the upper half of the grade. Call Sheila and she will be in touch during the season to see what you have available. Prices will be market price plus a bonus.

Masterson noted that the 2008 fair was another record-breaking event, with sales near the $150,000 mark. (She was quick to point out that costs were up considerably as well.) They are looking for lots of volunteers for 2009. Having been both a volunteer and full-time manager for many years, I highly recommend participating in your sugarhouse at the Big E. There are opportunities for sugar makers in the Massachusetts and New Hampshire buildings, too.

The author is a retired extension maple specialist who continues to report on maple news from around the maple world. Contact him at Larry.Myott@uvm.edu.