Seventh Annual Lake Erie Maple Expo

November 9 & 10, 2018 marks the Seventh Anniversary of the Lake Erie Maple Expo. Reflecting back on the last seven years you realize that this show is about more than seminars and shiny maple equipment. It is about people, dedicated people who plan the show every year, maple experts that deliver informative seminars and maple equipment dealers that put on the trade show. It is also about producers that have supported this show from the start. Since its beginning in 2012, the LEME has become one of the most talked about maple tradeshows in the country. One of the keys to the show’s success is the ability to build a program that caters to the needs of the producer. The 2018 edition will be no different. This year’s program will include topics like High Brix Processing and 3/16 tubing but the planning committee realizes that most producers do not start at that level. As in past there will be seminars and workshops for all levels of interest. It all begins with the Workshops, on Friday morning.

The traditionally popular Vacuum Tubing Installation Workshop has taken on a new twist. The LEME is bringing back professional vacuum tubing installer, and Ohio Producer Jason Grossman.  Jason and his brother Chris will take an in-depth look at Installing Tubing on Flat Ground. The LEME would not be possible without the help of the Albion FFA members and this year their maple program has a new home. The new sugarhouse is located just outside the High School. This is the perfect setting for a workshop on Sugarhouse Management with maple expert Glenn Goodrich. For the first time, workshop attendees will have an opportunity to cross the state line. The tour destination will be Jefferson, Ohio, home of the Bissell Maple Farm production facility. Attendees will tour the maple syrup production plant. This maple operation has gained notoriety for its Bourbon Barrel Aged Maple Syrup. They the recently upgraded their bottling area, which now includes a modern bottling line. After lunch, owner Nate Bissell will share with everyone the history of the operation and the keys to successfully marketing maple syrup and maple value added products.

Rounding out the Workshop agenda will be Maple Confections with Ohio Producer and maple products judge James Miller. For the beginner Laura Dengler and Mark Lewis will explore the basics of maple production. This seminar is being held at Triple Creek Maple Products, just north of Albion. All of the workshops will start at 9:00 am and conclude at 2:00 pm.  The Workshop Registration fee is $30.00 including lunch. This is separate fee from the Friday Evening/Saturday Registration. The Workshop registration area will be in the New Albion FFA Sugarhouse on the SE corner of the high school.

The Tradeshow will open Friday evening at 5:00 pm. This year’s show promises to be the biggest ever. On Friday evening, the featured speaker will be Mark Canella, Agricultural Business Program Director for the University of Vermont Extension. Mark’s topic are Maple Economics and Industry Trends. The presentation will include trends for industry growth and discussion on issues that are currently affecting the maple industry. Audience participation is encouraged in the discussion.

The Saturday program is loaded with topics that are sure to be of interest to everyone. Over 30 concurrent sessions will take place throughout the day. Seminars will start at 9:00 am on Saturday morning. This year we have an all-star cast of speakers including Dr. Tim Perkins from the UVM Proctor Research Center, from the Cornell Maple Program Stephen Childs New York State Maple Specialist and Aaron Wrightman, Extension Maple Specialist. Maple Producer experts include Glenn Goodrich,  Goodrich Maple and a host of local and out of state speakers on a variety of topics.  There will also be presentations from all of the major maple equipment manufactures highlighting some of the newest technology in the industry. There will also be maple production/marketing seminars and maple products demos for the beginner and small producer.

All of the programs except the Ohio bus tour workshop will take place in Albion, Pennsylvania at the Northwestern High School.  Registration is $40.00 for both the Saturday and Friday Evening programs. Mark your calendars for November 9, & 10 2018 and join the fun at this year’s LEME. Pre-registration deadline is October 15, 2018. Pre-registration deadline is October 15, 2018. Registration information is available on line at http://www.pamaple.org.

 

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Believe it or Not, Ohio Maple Syrup Production Tanks Again

Les Ober

Yes, it was better than the abysmal years of 2016 and 2017; Ohio Production for 2018 is reported at 90,000 gallons, eighth in the nation. This was the amount reported by USDA Nass in today’s June 2018 Crop Report. Let us take this report apart and see if you believe the results.

In the respective years of 2016 70,000 gal., 2017 80,000 gal., both of which were believable considering the extremely warm , season shorting weather that Ohio producers experienced in both years. 2018 was a different scenario altogether. Most producers I talked to did not have a great year but they did do respectable. Respectability comes in the form of a paltry 10,000-gallon increase in production. I know of five producers in NE Ohio that could have accounted for those 10,000 gallons. Now let us look at the number of taps. It remained the same as 2017 400,000 taps for the entire state of Ohio.  The only believable statistic is the yield per tap of 0.225 resulting from the low sugar content in the sap. Let us compare how neighboring states did. Pennsylvania produced 142,000 and Michigan produced 125,000 gallons respectively. That has to be a tough pill to swallow for any Buckeye Supporter.  The big winner, no surprise, Vermont with 1,940,000 gallons. New York overcame a lot of cold weather to produce a new high of 806,000 gallons. Maine produced 539,000 gallons, down from 709,000 in 2017 but they were in a deep freeze late in the season.

If my remarks seem somewhat caustic, I apologize. Yes, you can blame it on the weather or you can blame it on apathy on the part of the producers. Unfortunately, it has become a well-known fact that Ohio Maple Producers do not want to report their production. In addition, it could be the reporting system is partially to blame. Let’ s face it with a large portion of the syrup being produced in the Amish Community and a system that depends more and more on computers to get results there may be a problem. I back this up with the fact that only 400,000 taps was reported, and if that is the case, the number of taps in Ohio has literally stood still for almost ten years. No expansion in Ohio! I do not believe this to be the case. I cannot prove it but I think there are 400,000 taps in NE Ohio alone.

So why is this important? If you believe, what is reported and you are a maple producer you are now involved in a stagnant agricultural industry that is going nowhere. Whether you the producer, believes it or not, does not matter. It is what the local and state governments believe that counts. It is what Ohio State University, your agricultural educational institution believes, that counts. Right now House Bill 66 sits in front of the state legislature. If the bill passes and is signed into law maple producers would receive a significant reduction in their land taxes. At very least it might change the way counties look at CAUV for maple producers. In addition, OSU College of Food Agriculture and Environmental Sciences is being asked by the Ohio Maple Producers Association to employ additional staff to work with maple producers. Do you think this report is incentive to act on that request? More than anything else, what kind of message are we sending to Ohio consumers. If all they hear is the negative, will they believe that we have good supply maple syrup in Ohio, or should they continue to buy Vermont Syrup off the shelf ? It is time that we look at how we measure the value of the Ohio Maple Syrup Industry to Ohio’s agricultural economy. As producers, we owe it to ourselves to see that the majority of the syrup we produce goes in the record book. The future of the Ohio Maple syrup industry may depend on it.

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When to Tap?

For many of you, this information will be after the fact because you have already decided that January is a good time to tap. In fact the last 10 days of the month has had some very good weather for sap flow. If you live in the southern states or even southern Ohio the decision to tap was a good because you are never guaranteed a season past mid March. However, this post is directed more to the producers up north that are on the fence about tapping. I present three maps for your consideration. The top graph is the temperature forecast for NE Ohio from AccuWeather. Their 30 day forecasts have been reasonably reliable.  The solid orange line is the average temperature for the given dates The broken orange line is the daily highs and the broken blue line is the daily low temps. Once we get past the 5th of February it appears the we are going to drop below normal and stay there until the end of the month. Again this is a 30 day outlook but it matches up with what all of the local weather stations are predicting.

february Forecast

The Next graph is NOAA Weathers Forecast for February. This Graph is indicating we will have equal chances of being above normal, normal or below normal, at least for Ohio. What is interesting, is all of the above normal weather extending up into New England.

Februar Temp

The last Graph is the AccuWeather Forecast for Underhill Vermont, home of the UVM Proctor Maple Research Center. I picked this location because they do a marvelous job of tracking weather data. There temperatures graph appears to be slightly milder than the Ohio graph, with a couple of above normal spikes.  The thing to notice is the sharp rise in the daily high temperature’s at the end of February.

Underhill

I hope this information will help to make your decision easier. Keep in mind that these are  along range forecasts and they are subject to error. Also keep in mind if they are right and you tap this weekend, your window to collect sap will be very narrow and you could be frozen out for three weeks or longer. Also consider what the capabilities of your collection system.

 

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The 3/16 Tubing Revolution

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A New Maple Syrup Season is Just around the Corner

It is New Year’s Day 2018 and I am looking out my window at scene straight out of Frozen. I am also contemplating how this polar vortex, we have been locked into for the last 10 days will affect the 2018 maple sugaring season. What a difference 12 months makes! Last year it was 60 degrees on Christmas Day. We had just come through a very warm fall and many producers wondered how the abundance of warm weather would affect sap flow. We did get some cold weather the first week of January but what happened after that first week was record was one for the record books.

I wrote on January 12th that taping was underway, not just in Southern Ohio, but North East Ohio and on up into New England as well. It was called the earliest maple season ever. The Maple News documented the early tappers in action. As hard as it was to believe, January was the month to make syrup in 2017. February turned out to be a bust, ending in 70 plus temperatures on February 24th. The season came to an abrupt end in Ohio the first week of March. The 2017season in Ohio will be remembered for its early start and early finish. For Northeastern producers the windfall of good syrup production continued on into April producing some of the biggest crop ever in the New England and Quebec.  What about 2018?

The long range forecast is calling for the first 10 days of January to be brutally cold for everyone. That could be followed by a January Thaw but nothing like the warmup we experienced in 2017. Starting in February, the crystal ball of weather predictions gets a little hazy. It appears that Ohio and Pa. will revert back to normal or below normal. I hope someone can refresh my memory as to what normal really is, because it has been so long since I experienced normal I forgot what it looks like. If the forecast is right the Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan and Northern Ohio will stay frozen through part of February. This may also hold true in New York and parts of New England, but in areas along the coast it could go above normal, as the weather fronts move up the east coast. Those weather fronts could mean heavy snow for those areas. That brings us to March where a warming trend could take place across the region. All of this is driven by a strengthening La Nina. In 2018 March could once again win back the title of Maple Month.

Ok we all know that these long range forecasts are heavily dependent on the “SWAG” factor leaving everyone guessing. So what should you do to get ready for the 2018 season? Now is the time to get into the woods and make sure your lines are up and ready to go. That is unless you live in places like Erie Pa. where they currently have 52 inches of snow on the ground. In that case go to your closest outdoor equipment shop and buy several pair of snowshoes, your going to need them. Now is the time to watch the weather trends, especially going into February. With new technology we can tap two months in advance and still not take a hit on yield. The heavier the snow accumulation, the more preparation is needed, because it takes a lot more time to get ready when you are dealing with heavy snow and cold. Remember, trees do not care how much snow is in the woods. When it warms up and the snow starts to melt they start to run. If we have learned anything from the last 5 seasons it should be that maple sugaring seasons do not creep in like they did in the old days. The weather can change drastically overnight and you have to be ready when it gets here. This year the early bird may not get the worm, it may be the one that is able to recognize the season when it gets here that will be the winner. Do not get caught with you buckets (lines) down.

This is the first of many posts on the Ohio Maple Blog. Follow us on line and on Facebook. We will be tracking the 2018 season on Facebook so send your progress reports and pictures to the Ohio Maple Blog Facebook Page. Educational articles will be posted directly to the Blog and if you follow us on Facebook you will receive them. If you are not on Facebook then view the blog on line to read the latest posts. Remember we also have the new Hobby Maple Production Fact Sheet available on line. There will be a link posted on the blog. Post questions to our Facebook page and I will do my best to answer them in a timely manner. Thank you for supporting the Ohio Maple Blog and I hope all of you have a Happy New Year and a productive 2018 maple season

Les Ober Geauga County OSU Extension

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OSU Reintroduces the Hobby Maple Syrup Production Factsheet

factsheet

One of the most popular fact sheets on the Ohio State University’s Ohioline has always been the Hobby Maple Syrup Production fact sheet. Ohioline is the source for all of the fact sheets published by OSU Extension and the College of Food Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. The Original fact sheet was written by OSU State Forestry and Maple Specialist Dr. Randall Hiligmann emeritus. That fact sheet has served as a guide for thousands of new aspiring maple producers.  Anyone who has made maple syrup in the backyard knows that it is truly something that the whole family can enjoy. At the end of the season you are left with some fond memories and a container of maple syrup that the entire family can enjoy. It may not be the best maple syrup you have ever tasted but it is your maple syrup. That is what makes this hobby and the  publication popular.

It has been an honor to work with  co-author, OSU Forestry Specialist Kathy Smith to bring you an updated version of the Hobby Maple Syrup Production fact sheet. You can download a copy of the new fact sheet at : Hobby Maple Syrup Production

I hope you enjoy this publication and find it useful and may your upcoming maple season be long and sweet.

Les Ober Geauga County OSU Extension

 

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Sugarhill Container Price Increase

Below is a letter from the President of Hillside Plastics, Peter Haas.

September 2017

Dear Sugarhill® Customer,

As you may know, Hurricane Harvey created record damage to the petrochemical industry since it made landfall in Texas.  The impact of the storm has been substantial creating significant outages and logistics challenges.  The lingering flooding continues to pose a threat to the plastic bottle industry via disruption in supply.  As a direct result of the damage created by Hurricane Harvey, our resin suppliers declared Force Majeure earlier in September.

We having been doing everything in our power to secure back-up stocks, shift logistics to find alternate means to avoid interruption of supply, etc.  Thus far, despite being on Force Majeure allocation, we have been successful in preventing any significant interruptions to our customers.  Our priority continues to be to do everything we can to continue to provide you quality product with minimal interruption of supply.

This situation has resulted in substantial cost increases for HDPE resin and the logistics to have it delivered to our facility. To that end, we must increase prices by 10%, effective with shipments on 10/1/17 and thereafter.

As always, we sincerely appreciate your business and understanding of this necessary increase.

Regards,

Pete Haas

President

262 Millers Falls Road

Turners Falls, MA 01376

(413) 863-2222

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October 15th Pre-registration Deadline for the 2017 Lake Erie Maple Expo Approaching.

Les Ober, OSU Extension Geauga County

It is hard to believe that it has been six years since the concept of developing a maple syrup educational tradeshow, located in the central maple syrup producing region of the country, became a reality. Traditionally the majority of the educational seminars, on maple production, have been centered in New England and New York.  The idea of bringing a maple syrup expo to the shores of Lake Erie was definitely a long shot. However, the LEME planning committee, made up of producers from Pennsylvania, Ohio and New York put together a program that was designed to meet the needs of maple producers in this region. They also realized that they could tap into a whole new audience that were not making the trip to the eastern programs and would really appreciate a chance to attend a maple syrup tradeshow in their home region. The LEME popularity has grown proportionally over the last 5 years. Over 500 producers came to the LEME last year. This year’s edition will continue to raise the bar when it comes to maple syrup education.

What can producers expect when they walk through the doors on November 10 & 11, 2017? On Friday the LEME will present a series of 4 hour workshops where producers have the opportunity of focusing on one specific topic. One of the highlights this year’ workshop series will be a Woods Walk and Talk with Glenn Goodrich. This workshop will offer a rare opportunity to learn the basics of sugarbush layout and design from one of the most respected experts in the maple Industry.  Another area many producers struggle with is tree health and management. To address this topic the LEME has once again invited Cornell University Extension Forester Dr. Peter Smallidge who will present a workshop on Sugarbush Management. For producers interested in a more in-depth look at maple syrup processing there will be three workshops to choose from. This year’s Boiling Workshop will be presented by Kevin Lawyer from the Leader Evaporator Co.  RO information is always in demand and the LEME has once again invited NY Maple Specialist Stephen Childs to discuss RO’s For the Small Producer. One of the most talked about areas in maple production is the adoption of the new grading system and how it relates to maple syrup quality.  Les Ober from OSU Extension along with Ohio Maple Producer and Maple Products Judge James Miller will go in-depth on the topic; Maple Grading and Quality Assurance How Can It Help You? Other workshops include a Beginners Workshop with Laura Dengler and Mark Lewis, A Museum Talk with Janet Woods and a Confections Workshop with Jake Moser. The registration for the Workshops is separate from the Expo registration. The cost to attend a 4 hour workshops is $30.00 which includes lunch.

After the workshops the program shifts back to Northwestern High School where the tradeshow will open at 5:00pm. The program will include maple equipment and more maple equipment along with a panel discussion at 6:30 pm. With all of the expansion in the maple Industry and the recent down turn in bulk prices, have you ever wondered “Where is The Maple Industry Headed?” The panel of expert’s discussion topic, by the same name, should shed some light on the subject.  Panel members include Glen Goodrich of Goodrich Maple, Carl Lapierre from Lapierre Maple Equipment and Joe Orefice, newly named Director of Cornell’s Uihlein Forest Research Center. If you are interested in knowing what the future may hold for the North American Maple Industry in the next 5 years and beyond, you will not want to miss this discussion.

On Saturday the Trade Show will open at 8:00 am followed by concurrent seminars where producers will be able to choose from over 40 different topics. Here is a sampling of the topics at this year’s LEME. Center Acer’s Martin Pelletire who will discuss the Center’s research on Off Flavors. Cornell University is represented by four speakers in this year program. NY Maple Specialist, Steve Childs will demonstrate how to use Vacuum Cooling to improve making maple candy and cream and an overview of maple research at the Cornell Maple Program. Dr. Peter Samllidge will present several programs related to sugarbush improvement and tree health.  Joe Orefice will present two topics on timber production.  Mark Cannella from Cornell’s Cooperative Extension will discuss putting together a business plan for your maple operation.  Les Ober from OSU Extension will offer two programs for the new producer. Industry presentations  include; The Principals of Vacuum and Pump Selection with Carl Lapierre, a boiling  seminar by Leader Evaporator sugarbush monitoring systems from Marcland and a Spin-Fusion demo from CDL. There will also be a wide variety of programs on confections and value added products presented by local and regional producers. A complete updated list of this year’s topics will be available by Mid-September.

Come join your fellow maple producers at the 2017 LEME, November 10 & 11, 2017 at Northwestern High School in Albion Pa. Friday morning the workshops will start at 10:00am at different venues across the area.  Friday evening the doors to tradeshow open at 5:00pm and the show will run until 8:00 pm. The evening program will begin at 6:30pm in the Auditorium. Saturday’s program will start with the tradeshow at 8:00am the educational seminars will begin at 9:00. The cost of both Friday evening and all day Saturday programs is 40.00 dollars. Lunch is included. Please plan on preregistering by Oct 15th.  A late registration fee will be charged after that date. For complete registration information go online to the Northwestern Penn. Maple Producer Association website www.pamaple.org

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2017 Maple Syrup Production in Ohio Better Than 2016

Les Ober

Geauga County OSU Extension

The production results from The USDA NASS Survey were published on June 9th. For Ohio the numbers were an improvement over 2016, but not by much. This year Ohio Produced 80,000 gallons, an improvement over the 70,000 gallons produced last year. Once again 75% of the producing states improved their production and for some it was a major improvement.  New York and Maine each added close to 50,000 gallon to last year’s production. The nation’s leading producer of maple syrup is no surprise, Vermont. Vermont is in no danger of losing its crown; production was once again just under 2,000,000 gallons. Finishing out the top 5 were New York with 760,000 gallons, Maine with 709,000, Wisconsin with 200,000 and New Hampshire with 154,000 gallons. Ohio continues to slide in its ranking to a disappointing   9th place. However, Ohio producers did increase production over 2016 by 10,000 due to an early start. The earliest recorded start date in Ohio was January 1, 2017, 25 days earlier than 2016. The problem is that when you look at the average start date across the state it was February 11th. That was problem given the mild weather conditions we experienced in January.  You also have to consider that the temperature reached 77degrees F at CLE on February 24th and the season ended early around March 16th. By comparison Vermont recorded their earliest start on January 1, their average starting date was February 24th and their average closing date was April 10th , that translate into 2 million gallons of  syrup produced over a 3 month period. Both New York and Maine had similar scenarios.

There were not many changes in the weather pattern experienced in 2016.  Weather, once again had a negative effect on production in the Buckeye State while the mild weather in the East boosted production in that region. Increasing tap numbers and warmer weather early in the season has allowed producers in that region to dramatically increase production.  Climate change is definitely opening up opportunities to make syrup in the northern regions of states like Vermont, Maine and New Hampshire. Production is being expanded in regions that are at a higher elevation where traditional maple production was once hampered by steep slopes and short seasons. Now with the advent of vacuum and 3/16 tubing systems along with the trend toward early tapping, production has exploded in the form of huge 100,000 plus operations. Modern sugaring operations in the eastern states are not only big but they are efficient. The amount of Syrup per Tap in the big three has steadily increased and stayed around .300 gallons of syrup per tap. This has pushed the average syrup produced per tap in the United States to over .300 tap. This was an area where Ohio was once a leader but recently Ohio production has declined to .200 per tap. You can clearly blame, two poor production years in a row for this decline.

One final statistic that has shown a modest improvement over last year, but is still below 2015, is the number of taps recorded in the Buckeye State, showing only 400,000 taps in 2017. For anyone working closely with the Ohio maple industry this statistic is mind boggling given that expansion going on in sugar bushes across the state over the last 5 years. The only explanation for this is that a large portion of the syrup being produced in Ohio is going unreported. Another statistic that tends to cast suspicion on validity of Ohio’s maple production statistics is how Ohio producers choose to market their syrup. In 2015 44% of Ohio producers sold to the retail market. That number has dropped to 30% in 2016. At the same time the Bulk sale market share has gone from 32% in 2015 to 43% in 2016 ( note these numbers are always one year behind the current year).  Look at the marketing trends of big three (VT, NY & Maine) you will see that in the areas of expansion and big  production the largest percentage of their syrup is sold on the bulk market,46% in NY,  86% in  Vt. and 93% in Maine.  Now take a look at a state of Connecticut and you will see they sell over 50% retail. Makes you wonder how much syrup is actually being produced in Ohio and is being sold out the backdoor to eastern and western packers. If this true, it is sad, because the demand for maple syrup is on the increase in Ohio and the stores are flooded with Canadian and Eastern States syrup.

So what have we learned from the last several maple seasons and how can we improve our maple production?  The one thing that is clear is that the last five years have not been normal seasons for producing maple syrup. 2017, 2016 and 2013 were all warmer than normal and if you wanted to maintain average production for your operation you had to start early to get the early runs. This was especially true in 2017. Even the Polar Vortex Years of 2014 and 2015 presented their challenges due to the extremely cold winters and late starts that we experienced. The fact is, when the weather is right make the move and tap the trees. In most cases you will never make up for production lost early in the season by trying to extend the season at the tail end. Another factor is syrup quality. It is much easier to make a quality product in the first half of the season rather than struggling to make quality syrup while battling warm weather and increased bacterial contamination at the end. Hopefully 2018 will be a banner year for Ohio Maple producers, we are long overdue for a good one.

 

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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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