A Funny Thing Happened to My Sap on the Way to the Evaporator

The following article was written and published in The Maple News May edition. In the article I took  a look back at the 2017 maple season. In Ohio it was very different and in many ways very educational.

The 2017 syrup season saw Mother Nature throwing just about everything at Ohio maple producers. In years where everything seems to go as planned, and production is good, we tend to overlook what can happen when we have deal with extreme conditions.  2017 was a year of extremes; we were constantly exposed to either extended warm or cold weather. The season started early for many and never really got off the ground for others.  February 20th was the beginning of a warm spell that ended on February 24th with the temperature in Cleveland, Ohio reaching 77 degrees, breaking several records in the process. The first two weeks of March were cold with minimal sap flow; this was followed by a warm up that ended the season on March 27. After a year like 2017 many Ohio producers are still wondering what actually ended the season.

When sap comes from the tree, the sweet liquid is sterile. Once the sap is exposed to the environment colonies of bacteria begin to grow in the liquid. A 2003 research study done in Quebec, Canada by Legace, Pitre, Jacques and Roy isolated 32 different t isolate groups of bacteria found in maple sap. As producers we often think of bacterial growth as bad because many of these bacterial strains cause maple sap to spoil (Morselli and Whalen 1991 & 1996). The ironic fact is that not all bacteria are bad and several strains of bacteria and yeasts are needed to give maple syrup its unique flavor and color (Wilits and Underwood). This was reconfirmed in a 2011 study done in Quebec Canada by Filteau, Legace, Lapointe and Roy. The Maple syrup is almost 100% made up of the sugar known as Sucrose. When bacteria are introduced into the sweet sap solution fermentation occurs via hydrolysis that results in the breakdown of a small percentage of the sucrose into fructose and glucose. This is often referred to as the invert portion of the maple sugar complex. When heat is introduced, there is a thermal reaction (Millard Reaction) that causes the browning of the liquid during the boiling process. This gives maple syrup its signature amber color and unique flavor.  As the bacterial contamination increases the result is an intense darkening of the syrup and a pronounced strong flavor. With an overabundance of bacterial growth in the sap results in the formation of acids that can cause a sour smell and taste known as Sour Sap. If boiled into syrup, the syrup often becomes thick and stringy, forming Ropey Syrup.  The highest probability of this type of contamination usually occurs at the end of the season.   However, as many producers found out this year,   it can happen anytime during the season, when environmental conditions are right and bacterial growth is left uncontrolled.

As we reach the end of a season, one of the most often asked questions is; how can I tell when the season is over. During a normal season we have two completely different biological processes that often occur simultaneously at the end of the season.  This can be confusing to producers especially new producers.  The season ultimately comes to an end when the trees begin bud formation and leaf emergence. The presence of abnormal sour sap is often mistakenly associated with the budding process because in a normal season the onset of warm weather not only increases bacterial growth but is pushing the trees closer to the formation of buds.  The off flavor associated with budding is similar but distinctly different than Sour Sap. Buddy Syrup has a chocolate or tootsie roll like flavor and when boiled, the steam will take on an unforgettable pungent aroma. The easiest way to identify buddy syrup is to boil a pot of the suspected liquid on the stove and wait for the aroma. If the aroma shows up the season is over.

February 24th marked the end of the season for many Ohio producers despite the onset of cold weather in the first half of March. Those that tap predominantly Red Maple were justified in their decision based on the premature bloom of their trees. Others simply lost the battle to bacterial contamination. The producers with the best chances of extending the season past the freeze up were those using tubing systems that were run continuously 24/7, regardless of sap flow during the warmup. Continuous operation keeps the sap flowing away from the tap hole and it also has a cooling effect, as a result of air being transferred through the lines. In addition almost all were using some type of tap hole sanitation technology in the form of check valves or regular replacement of spouts and drops. The key word here is sanitation. Producing top quality syrup starts with a tubing system and equipment that is properly cleaned and stored at the end of the previous season.  It continues with constant sanitation of equipment throughout the maple production process.  A good example is replacing plastic sap storage tanks with easy to clean stainless steel tanks. Plastic tanks are one of the worst harbingers of bacteria because the plastic is porous and cannot be easily cleaned or sanitized. Many of the larger operations have now adopted new evaporator cleaning systems that clean not only the front pans but also the flue pan. This involves draining the back pan between runs and recirculating RO permeate water to remove niter and slow bacterial growth in the evaporator.  Cleaning your equipment immediately and processing your syrup as quick as possible is essential if you want to make a quality product throughout the season.

We can control sanitation and processing but the trees are a different matter. Can a maple tree rebound after warm weather and a long shutdown? There is no definitive answer to this question. Each sugar bush has its own characteristics and will respond differently to environmental conditions.    The reality is, you can make a good season better by extending the season, but you cannot make up for the production you have lost as a result of not tapping on time. Across the state Ohio producers were tapping in January, 3 out of the last 5 years.  Only in 2014 and 2015, the years of the Polar Vortex, was tapping delayed into late February and early March. You can never duplicate the flow of a fresh tap precisely placed at the start of the season. Many of those producers tapping early in 2017 learned this lesson the hard way in 2016. As a result those that tapped early in 2017 had an average to above average seasons all because they were able to take advantage of the opportunity.

Late season runs are often marked by diminishing returns, yet some producer pride themselves on the fact that they can make syrup long after everyone else is done. The question is, what are they making and where will it end up. Ultimately the quality of the product has to be the deciding factor in knowing when to end the season. Attempts to make commercial syrup at the end of the season are usually a waste of the producer’s time and money. Sacrificing quality for quantity only results in a surplus of low quality syrup that should never reach the market place.  Unfortunately many times this syrup goes into the marketing pipeline, ending up on a store shelf, headed for the table of an unsuspecting   consumer.  This type of production and marketing practice has no place in the maple syrup Industry.

Les Ober Geauga County OSU Extension

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2017 Geauga County Maple Festival is Here

Geauga County Maple Festival

April 27th is the day many people in Chardon Ohio and the surrounding area have been waiting for all year.  Today is the opening day of the 2017 Geauga County Maple Festival. For many this is the first Ohio festival to open every year. A chance to enjoy the festivities , the contests and load up on fair food and of course have more than one maple stir. The maple festival is an opportunity to celebrate the maple syrup industry and what it means to Geauga County. It salutes the men and women who produce one of nature’s most perfect foods.  In 2017 two milestones were reached at the Geauga County Maple Festival Hall of Fame Awards Ceremony. For the first time, a prominent maple syrup producing family  had a 3rd generation inducted into the Geauga County Maple Syrup Producers Hall of Fame.  Also when the awards was announced for the grand champion maple syrup produced in Geauga County a new record was set for the number of times that this award was given to an individual sugar bush.

On April 22, 2017 two members from different sides of the Timmons Family were inducted into the Geauga County maple Syrup Hall of Fame.  Robert Timmons father of Richard and George and Roderick Timmons the father of Sterling Timmons were the 2017 inductees.  Two sides of the family tree living and farming within a few miles of each other in Auburn Township.  Robert’s family grew up on Munn Road Township on dairy farm where they made syrup on a 3000 Tap sugar bush. Down the Road and around the corner the Roderick Timmons family also owned a dairy farm and a 2000 tap sugar bush.  Both sides of the family had seen member inducted previously. Roberts’s sons   Richard and George and their wives Ruth and Clare were the first members of the family to be inducted in the Hall of fame in 1987. Roderick’s son Sterling and his wife Jean were inducted in 2000. Finally Richards’s son Jim and his wife Penny were inducted into the hall in 2010. More than one maple producing family has had 2 generations receive the honor but up until now no family has had a third generation inducted. It is only fitting that this honor be given to the Timmons family for all the support both sides of the family tree have given to the Geauga County Maple Industry. On hand to receive the honor were two of the grandchildren, one from each side of the family.  On hand to receive the award for Roderick was granddaughter, Polly Fenton. Polly’s father, Sterling Timmons moved the family to central Ohio during the mid-nineties when the new St. Rt. 422 was extended through the middle of their farm. Polly remarked that after discovering some maple trees on the new farm, one first things Dad did, was to build a sugarhouse. Today Son Terry runs 500 taps keeping the maple tradition alive.  On the Robert Timmons side of the family Grandson Jim accepted the award. Jim’s side of the family, represents, the third, fourth and fifth generations now producing maple syrup.   Jim now operates a 4000 tap sugar bush  on  the home  farm in Burton Township.  Jim remarked that his grandfather would not believe the way we make syrup today. Congratulations to both sides of the Timmons Family.

This year also marked the first time that any sugar bush has won the top producer award more than more than 8 times. That honor up until this year was held by Rhodes Sisters and their father Anson Rhodes The new honor of 9 grand champion awards goes to Soubousta  Farm of Chardon Ohio.  The first 4 times the honor was bestowed on the original owner of the farm Ed Soubousta.  The last 5 Championship Awards were won by Ed’s Nephew Robert Butler.  This is an achievement and a record that may never be duplicated again unless Bob and his partners add a couple more top producer awards to their list of achievement’s.

Last year the entry format was changed and the In County entries are now judged by individual grade. Awards were given for the top 7 entries in each grade. The Top Winner and overall winner of The Golden Delicate class was Soubousta Farm. First place in the Amber Rich class was Tom Salo of Montville and the first place winner in the Dark Robust class was Carl and Karen Defillippo also from Montville.  The first place winner in the Out of County entry was The Goodell Farm from Mantua Portage County. Stephanie Bartlett of New bury was your Grand Champion Adult Candy Maker. Winning the Grand Champion Junior Candy maker award was Anthony Barham of Chardon.  The Grand Champion Syrups and the top placing syrups in all categories will be auctioned off on Sunday April 30th at 12:30 on the Main Street Stage.  The weather looks like it will cooperate with only a slight risk of showers. Come out and enjoy the festival and all things maple.

Les Ober Geauga County OSU Extension

 

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The Ohio Maple Syrup Season; Moving Forward?

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Red Maple In Middlefield Township Sugarbush on March 1, 2017

Les Ober, OSU Extension

It is March 2nd and we have just seen the warmest February on record in the Cleveland, Ohio area The 77 degree day that we experienced on Friday February 24th shattered every record for a high temperature in the month of February and it was also the highest winter temperature in Cleveland for any winter month. The way the month of February ended created a dark shadow on our ability to make maple Syrup in Ohio. Now we are in March, the cold temperatures have come back. It looks like we will see temperatures dipping into the teens or low twenties. Where does that leave us?

Many trees have budded out. All of the Silver Maple and many Red Maples that are out in the open have full buds. The Sugar Maples did not budded and this is why we prize and select for this species of Maple. Let me say this going forward. If you are a commercial producer who has not tapped the potential to make significant amount of syrup is gone. The next warm spell will likely end the season for everyone. If you are a hobby producer who has not tapped, it is too late, forget about it. If you are hobby producer who has tapped and your taps are not running, do not re-tap, I repeat do not re-tap. You will most likely not make any useable syrup and you will not be doing your trees any favors.

Now let’s address the producers that have been making syrup and have the potential to make more syrup. If you have Red Maples make sure you look at them very carefully or just pull the taps, especially road side trees. Several producers with large populations of Reds have called it quits altogether due to budding. For those with Sugar Maples the potential is there to make more syrup. You do not want to spoil that sap by collecting sap from a Red Maple that has budded.

At this point your biggest enemy is bacteria. Everything needs to be cleaned out and drained. You could see high levels of bacteria building in the lines and tanks over the previous week of warm weather. Many producers just kept the vacuum pumps running during that period and hoped for the best. Many collected a fair amount of sap due to weather fronts that pushed through. I am sure it paid to operate the pumps regardless of the temperatures and it kept their lines clear. If you shut of the vacuum because the trees just quit running I hope you were using check valves because this gave you some degree of protection from bacteria at the tap hole.

Now that the cold weather has returned what kind of syrup will we make? The answer will come once your fire up the evaporator. If it is buddy you will know it. Most likely you will be producing a darker grade of syrup. That is not bad because most producers produced a good volume of Golden Delicate early on. If the producer chooses the two could be blended but taste will determine that. You can blend for color but you cannot blend for taste. If you syrup has a slight off flavor from sour sap or budding it will show up in the blended grade. There is virtually no way to mask an off flavor in syrup once it is there and no reason to ruin what you have previously made. That is why some producers chose to call it quits rather than trying to sell and off flavored syrup to their customers. Keep the syrup separate and find a market for it. If the flavor is not pronounced there is a market for this syrup but be beware the bulk price may be below the cost of production.

Producers that tapped in early January have had a normal season. The biggest question is, after last year and this year, have we established a new normal for Ohio Maple Syrup Production or maybe the two distinct zones of production in Ohio are consolidating. I say this because if you produce syrup near the Ohio River you would normally tap in January. If you live in NE Ohio you would normally tap in mid-February. Maybe we are now seeing a climate shift that will establish a universal tapping date for the entire state. For sure, after this year producers must realize you can no longer tap by the calendar. If you produce maple syrup in Ohio you need to be ready to go by New Year’s Day. This will require spending time over the holidays getting the sugarbush ready to tap. If the season does not start until February so be it, but at least if we have established a new normal you will be ready. Climate change is just that, change and the only certainty in life is change. We change our systems, we change out tapping technology, we adapt. This is the only way you will survive in this business or any business.

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Will the Maple Syrup Season Continue?

Les Ober OSU Extension

There have multiple posts on the Ohio Maple Blog Facebook page concerning the weather and how it will affect the maple syrup season in Ohio. Let me say this at the onset, no one is able to predict the weather long range with a great degree of accuracy more than a few days out and this year has proven that. What I do know is that we are faced with up to 6 days of temperatures above 50 degrees. If that does happen it will be the first time in 80 years for the last week in February. It will also push our trees closer to bud break. Right now we have accumulated 20 growing degree days. A Red Maple could experience bud break at 44 growing degree days (Gdd). That means we have to accumulate 24 more days in Burton Ohio to break the buds on a Red Maple. It is possible that we will accumulate almost one third of those this upcoming week. That being said this will change as we move further south in the state.  There are areas right now in the southern part of the state that may very well see first bud break on Red Maples and Silver Maples by the end of next week.

 

Buds coming out this time of year is very early even for southern Ohio. There are many factors that lead to what I will call premature budding of maple trees. Day time temperatures have the biggest influence on budding. Anything above 50 degrees is counted as a Gdd. However, the temperatures in a woodlot tend to be lower than  at the street level. The trees on the street will bud faster than those in the woods. How much snow do you have? Right now we have 4 to 5 inches on the ground and that will keep the woods colder during the first part of the upcoming weekend due to convective cooling, especially at night. The bigger question is how much snow will show up in March? Snow is good not only to cool the trees but slow release moisture for sap flow. How much cloud cover do you have? Cloud cover keeps the warming sun rays away from the tree branches. It is those bright sunny days that move a tree closer to bud break.  Northern Ohio has more cloud cover than southern Ohio especially close to Lake Erie.

 

What will tell the story is the forecast going into the first week of March? Right now it is calling for cold weather. I think the weather pattern that sets up after March first will determine the length of our season this year just as it did last year. Area north of Columbus will survive this warm spell but south of Columbus is questionable. The long range NOAA Weather forecast for Columbus north shows that we will trend below normal up until St. Patrick’s Day after that it will trend slightly above normal. In the Cincinnati area the trend will be to go above normal and will osculate close to the freezing during the night. Northeast Ohio once again appears to have the best chance of making syrup through the end of March due to fact that our average daily lows are in the high twenties throughout the month. If it freezes at night we will be ok.

 

The good news is that the early tappers have reached the halfway mark of a normal season. The run this weekend will be big one. If you have not tapped you had better get in the woods and get the job done and catch this run. Take what is given to you in the days ahead and be thankful for what you have produced so far. We are definitely in era of change in how and when we produce maple syrup. If this trend continues for one will plan on having everything ready to tap on New Years Days. If it sits for a month so be it but if the weather patterns are right the trees will get tapped. “Fool me once shame on you fool me twice shame on me”.

 

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Filed under Hobby Maple Syrup Production, Maple Production, Maple Syrup in Ohio

Follow the 2017 Maple Syrup Season

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The 2017 maple season is underway. Follow the progress of the maple season on the Ohio Maple Blog http://www.ohiomaple.wordpress.com.  2017 Maple Season Progress Page Updated today!

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Some Thoughts on the Start of an Early Maple Syrup Season

The Steam has finally cleared! What a January it has been, when it comes to making maple syrup. There had to be some kind of record set in Ohio for the amount of syrup produced in the first month of the year. Locally most of the bigger producers tapped and produced between 200 and 400 gallon of syrup. This was a personal best for most of them in the month of January. For many who tapped around the 12th of January it was the earliest they had ever tapped. Geauga Maple Company and Grossmans Sugarbush   in Claridon Twp. Geauga County were both going early. Talking to Jason Grossman at the Ohio Maple Days he indicated that they had boiled 5 times prior to the winter meetings. Sugar Valley Farms in Middlefield,   made right at 400 gallon as did the Gingerich Family Sugarbush in Burton Township. The Howel’s Family in Northwest Pa. also had a good early run and made a considerable amount of syrup. Reports were coming in all over New England on Facebook from early tappers with the same results. The easiest way to keep up on the season’s progress in Ohio and elsewhere is to go on the Ohio Maple Blog Facebook page. I will also keep a running summary of events on the 2017 Maple Progress Report.

On the 30th of January old man winter returned with an outbreak of winter weather in NE Ohio. Overnight we received 12 inches of Lake Effect. This will make tapping and working lines harder in this part of Ohio. It looks like a two week lockdown of cold weather with very little time above freezing. Looking at several weather sites, I do not see anything much above 32 or 34 degrees before February 15th. That forecast would parallel what NOAA Weather had predicted for the first half of February. Long Range forecasts predict this trend of below normal temps will continue on into March. This means cold weather up front but cooler weather as we move toward April. This is a good thing if the normal air temp is 45 to 50 degrees in Mid-March it means we will maintain conditions conducive to sap flow.  Another good thing is that no day time/night time lows are predicted to be below zero. Tell you how this all works out when we get to the middle of March.

The other thing to consider for the early tappers is will your taps hold up over almost 3 months of exposure to the elements. Again this comes down to what kind of plan you had prior to early tapping. Did you use new taps, did you change out drops and taps or did you install check valves? Is your plan to keep the vacuum pumps running whenever the air temperature is above freezing. For many this is uncharted territory. Last year was similar with cold stretching almost into March and then the season abruptly ended on the 10t of March. Early tappers were really only in for a little over 6 weeks at the most. That would be the length of a normal season. In the east the season started a little later and ran well into April.  For those that did tap early the reward was a near normal season in Ohio and a spectacular season in the East. Only time will tell the outcome. I think we stand to learn a lot about the new technology we are using.

 

 

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Should I Tap?

Les Ober OSU Extension

I got up this morning and it was 60 degrees. All I could think of was that a lot of my friends who make maple syrup got up, saw the same thing I did and headed straight to the sugarhouse to find their drills. To say the least this is unusually warm for this time of year and it has everyone scratching their head. I also looked at the internet and questions were coming into the OMB about whether it is time to tap. This is topic that will be address in depth at the Ohio Maple Days but due to the early warmup I will give you my take on the subject.

First a little science! To quote New York Maple Specialist Steve Childs we need to know “How Does Sap Happen”. Sap flow is the result of sap rising and falling in the tree through the vascular system of a maple tree known as sapwood. The sap flows to provide nutrients to all of the vegetative growth above ground. Sap flow from the roots to very tips of the branches nourishing the buds that will develop into leaves. This process is on a phonological clock that limits the amount of time that we have to intercept a very small portion of that sap and make it into maple syrup. Once the buds emerge the sap is no longer useable for syrup production. Sap rises because of a variation in spring temperatures that we call the freeze thaw cycle. The tree freezes, this creates a suction that draws nutrients from the roots along with ground water. Once the temperature rises above 32 degrees F, gases begin to form inside the tree. This pushes the sap up the sapwood the tree up into the very tops of the branches. Considerable pressure is produced in the process. In fact that pressure can reach 40 psi. When you drill a hole in the tree sap leaks out into a bucket and continues until the tree quits pushing sap or it freezes again. We can increase that flow by applying vacuum to the tap with a vacuum pump and tubing. If the temperatures stay warm sap flow will gradually decline. Sap can flow up to 72 hours without the repeat of the freeze thaw cycle. Without freezing the sap level in the tree drop below the taphole and the flow will stop. Once the temperatures drop below freezing the whole cycle starts again. This is a very simple explanation of a very complex process.

What else can cause sap to stop flowing from a taphole? Once a taphole is drilled into a tree the maple season clock starts to run. With buckets and open tap holes that window of opportunity is around 4 weeks before the taphole starts to heal up and the sap flow stops. This healing is the result of the taphole being exposed to air and from the growth of bacteria in and around the hole. Air dries out he taphole and supplies oxygen to bacteria that coat the hole with slime that eventually seals off the exposed sap wood. Similar to what happens when you get a cut. Blood flows for a while but eventually it coagulates and the bleeding stops. A vacuum tubing system is different in that the taphole is not exposed directly to the outside air and sap is kept flowing under vacuum for a longer period of time. If operated correctly the hole will be kept free of bacteria for most of the season. This can be accomplished two ways. First you can keep the vacuum running continuously whenever the air temperature is above freezing. This will keep the sap moving keeping the lines clear and the taphole cool. Producers have found that they will gather enough sap during extended warm periods and make enough syrup to pay for the cost of running the pumps during that period of time. The other method is to us a vacuum system with check valves to prevent bacteria laden sap from the lines being pulled back in the tree. A tree will draw sap from the lines just like a hose will siphon water from a tank when you turn the tap off. This bacteria laden sap will aid in healing and shutting down the taphole for the season. The check valve will close when the vacuum is released and it will seal off the tap. I discussed many of these taphole sanitation techniques along with the use of check valves in an earlier post on this blog. A side note; for those of you using a 3/16 gravity system, research at the Cornell Maple Program, shows that because you are generating a higher level of vacuum a pull back into the tree occurs. Preliminary research shows that using a check valve will increase the yield in a 3/16 tubing gravity system. I intend to discuss 3/16 tubing in an article to be published on the OMB at a later date.

Now to answer the question should I tap or not tap during and early warms spell. My suggestion is to obtain all the information you can about upcoming weather patterns. Then look at your system. If you are a small producer or a backyard producer looking for the ideal 30 day window, January is most likely too early to tap. Your taps may dry out and you may miss some of the really good runs in late February or March. You could re-tap but that is hard on the tree and is never recommended. The best approach is to watch the weather and be ready to get those good runs in February and March. For those of us who have vacuum tubing. We can stretch the season with taphole sanitation techniques. Watch the weather and tap when to opportunity arises. You may get some very good early runs. If you are going to tap now make sure you change out your spouts or use check valves. You have to create a closed system at the tree to prevent taphole healing. If you have enough taps consider tapping the side of the woods that runs early now and the late running sections later on, spread the season. The best you can hope for is two months before your taps start to shut down. I have personally kept my taphole open from the 10th of February to the 10th of April with the use of check valves and continuous vacuum operation. No matter what you decide to do it is a gamble, here’s hoping your decisions pays off.  Here is a little additional information that may help to make you decide. NOAA Weather has now released their 3 month forecast for January, February and March. It is now calling for above normal temperatures during the period for Ohio into New England. I will hedge a little but my taps will be in by February 1st.

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Filed under Maple Education, Maple Production, Maple Syrup in Ohio, Taphole Sanitation, Tubing & Vacuum Systems

Happy New Year from the Ohio Maple Blog

It’s a brand new year and a new maple season is just around the corner. It is time to fire up the Ohio Maple Blog and get out some information to our producers. Exciting things are happening in the month of January. This upcoming weekend will be the New York State maple Conference in Verona NY. If you want more information go on line to the Cornell Maple Program. On the 13 and 14th Of January from 9am to 5pm Al Baxter announced Stumpwater Farm will be holding and open house. The Baxter Family are Dominion and Grimm, Smokey Lake and Memprotec Dealers located on 29499 Clark Rd. in Sullivan, Ohio. SW of Cleveland.  On January 19 to the 21st will be Ohio Maple Days. You can read all about he agenda and how to register in the previous post. Reminder you have until the 12th of January to pre-register without an increase in registration fees.

On Saturday January 28 The Geauga County OSU Extension is inviting local maple producers to attend a three hour workshop entitled:

Using the New IMSI Grading System to improve Maple Syrup Quality

 The new IMSI International Grading System is not only a marketing tool it is a guide to producing a better product. On January 28th you will have an opportunity to attend a program on using the new Grading system to improve the quality of the maple syrup you produce.

Les Ober OSU Maple Syrup Program Coordinator for NE Ohio and James Miller Local producer and maple products contest judge will show you how to improve the way you test for density, color, clarity and flavor. You will learn how to recognize the signature flavor that defines each grade and how off flavors can have a negative effect on your syrup quality. You will also learn about processing and sanitation errors that can also impact the quality of the syrup you produce.

The program will be held at the Patterson Center in Burton Ohio from at 9:00 to 12:00 Am on January 28th 2017. The program is free but we are asking that you preregister by January 25th.

 

Very Soon you will have an opportunity to meet the Maple Producers of Northeast Ohio, a new producer organization that will be helping to promote maple syrup production and marketing in the NE corner of the state. Their goal is to work with the Ohio Maple Producers Association to promote activities like the Maple Madness Tour in NE Ohio. Look for one of their representatives at the local winter meetings and ask them about this exciting new organization.

Backyard producers I am looking for pictures and ideas that we can post on the Ohio Maple Blog Backyard Mapler. We need your ideas on collection, storage, boiling and canning to share in the blog. Hobby maple producers are some of the most resourceful and inventive producers in the industry and we want to hear how you make maple syrup. Send your ideas and pictures to Les Ober at ober.10@osu.edu.

 

Finally I can say now you can say follow us on Facebook. The Ohio Maple Blog now has a Facebook Page which will complement and enhance our Blog. Right now we are promoting all of the maple activities that taking place around the state. This is a great way to find out what we are highlighting and then go to the Ohio Maple Blog for more information.

 

 

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New Consumer Maple Page Launched

On December 7th we launched a new addition to the Ohio Maple Blog. It is called “Its Not Just for Pancakes Anymore.” One of the main reasons for the new addition is to reach out to maple syrup consumers and give them an educational resource dedicated to the use of Maple syrup and maple products. In the first addition we are talking about the new international grading system for maple syrup. Many consumers are use to the old USDA Standard System but what they may not realize is that this system has been replaced. The new system not only grades syrup by color but also by flavor. This takes maple grading to a new level utilizing multiple senses. I also brings it to a level that consumers understand. May of the food product industries employ the sense of sight, taste to define the quality of their products. The maple industry has now reached that level.

In the months ahead we will be exploring the topic of grading and quality assurance on this blog. An understanding of how the process of making maple syrup will affect not only the density, color and flavor will improve the quality of your product.

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Using the New Maple Syrup Grading System as a Marketing Tool

Les Ober

Geauga County OSU Extension

 

Two years ago this Fall the maple syrup industry completed the adoption of a new system for grading syrup. It took a long time to get everyone on the same page to complete the process that was officially started in 2011. The International Maple Syrup Institute took the old USDA Standard grades that included USDA Grade A Light, Medium and Dark and Grade B and transformed them into four Grade A categories that would include all saleable syrup. Two important additions were the flavor descriptors and the Tc (light transparency) range. This allows consumers to compare grades on flavor and it also opened the door for the use of instruments in the grading process for color determination.

The four Grade A categories are Golden Delicate, Amber Rich, Dark Robust and Very Dark Strong. You will find that Golden Delicate parallels the old Light Amber Category. Amber Rich includes all of the old medium and the very top of the Grade A Dark Category. Dark Robust includes the rest of the of the Grade A Dark category and the very Top of the old Grade B Category. The Very Dark Strong Category includes the rest of the syrup that was formally classified as cooking syrup. Most very dark syrup that is produced and does not have an off flavor or a density problem will fall in this category. If syrup has an off flavor or does not meet the above minimum of 66 brix, or the below maximum 68.9 brix density standard it will be sold as commercial syrup and priced accordingly. It should be pointed out that the retail price in most markets does not change for any of the top 3 grades and many producers sell their very dark syrup for the same price.

The new grading system allows us to not only sell syrup on color but also on flavor and after all, flavor is what sells maple syrup. Flavor is a component of maple syrup judging that is very subjective. Everyone has their own idea of what maple syrup should taste like. It is almost unfair to put maple syrup in a jug that has not been graded. It would be like labeling a cut of meat as beef. You as a consumer would be buying the package of meat and not know if it was a Porterhouse Steak or Stew Meat. That type of marketing went out the window with the anticipation of finding out what the prize was in a box of Cracker Jacks. Today’s consumers are getting smarter about what they buy. Why would you try to sell them syrup that could be Very Dark Strong, Golden Delicate or something in-between? If you are just putting syrup in a jug you are missing out on an important part of marketing, interrupting and understanding what the consumer truly wants. You maybe marketing high grade of Golden Delicate syrup when the consumers is looking for a darker more robust flavor. The comment you often hear about Golden Delicate is that it is very sweet with little or no maple flavor. If this were case, do you think you will have a return customer; even though you put what you believe is your best product in the container?

There is however, one caution about selling graded maple syrup; it had better be graded right. That is where spectrophotometry comes in. Today for 60 to 80 dollars you can buy a Hanna Checker. There is also a more accurate and expensive model available for commercial packers, contest and grading fanatics. It is all based on the transmission of a beam of light through the sample. As the product darkens the percent light transmission drops. Once you have a reading you match the %Tc light transmission reading on the device to the %Tc range of one of the new grades. Each grade has a % Tc range. The end results are similar but a lot more reliable than a temporary grading kit. Over the last two months putting, together my maple syrup evaluation programs, I have had a chance to look at dozens of samples of maple syrup, some graded and some not. Many times these samples were so close it would be impossible to grade accurately on a hand held temporary grading kit. This new instrumentation makes it easy to grade syrup. This proves once again that maple syrup production is pure science from start to finish.

Generally overall the new grading system has been well received at various locations where we introduced it to the public. At many fairs and shows we have been able to stimulate conversation about the characteristics of each individual grade. Using sample tasting is a great way to interact with your customers. Generally overall potential consumers liked Amber Rich but more and more are trying and enjoying Dark Robust. This has been a learning experience for both the producer and the consumers alike. Ultimately I think many of the producers end up learning a little more about consumer preferences and the product they are selling. Grading in many states is not mandatory and Ohio is one of them. The other factor here is that consumers are really not familiar with how maple syrup is graded. The only thing they can compare it to is your average table syrup which has no identity. This is where maple producers can take a lesson from the wine and craft beer industry. They have built a whole marketing program around identifying the various characteristics of their product. Is it out of the realm of reality that we might someday include a tasting room in our sugarhouses where potential customers could sample the various grades of syrup and other value added products? Think about it, this could add a whole new dimension to the way we market maple syrup.

If you want to learn more about how you can use the new grading system to improve your marketing and your production practices I will be teaching a 4 hour workshop at the Lake Erie Maple Expo on Friday November 11th in Albion Pa. For more information on the workshop  contact  www.pamaple.org

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