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.
Geauga Co. OSU Extension
Expansion in the maple syrup producing regions has been in high gear over the last several years. In New England and New York there is little doubt on how and where expansion will occur. In both areas you have mountainsides with 1000’s of maple trees. Much of this land is owned and leased by the government or large private companies. Obtain the operating capital; lease the land run the pipeline down the mountainside to the sugarhouse and you are in business. Ok I realize it is not that simple but it is a lot easier than expanding in Ohio. We have fewer trees, in smaller concentrations, which are spread across the state. There is also the issue of convincing landowners to lease their trees. This can be very difficult to say the least.
Let’s look at the process of leasing trees for maple syrup production. The majority of trees in Ohio are privately owned. Most of the government owned woodland is located in SE Ohio in areas that have never been considered prime maple producing area. Sixty percent of the maple production in Ohio is done in the northeast quadrant of the state. This is an area that has seen increased pressure from urban development and the price of that land reflects developmental value not agricultural value. This often makes it unaffordable for someone to buy a woodlot for maple production. To compound the problem much of this land is owned by “Baby Boomers” who have passed away or are now ready to leave Ohio and transfer ownership to a sibling or a third party. Often the cost of ownership (land tax) or the cost of settling an estate will determine what will happen to the estate. Many times the family is forced to liquidate assets such as timber to offset these expenses. As a result many of our prime sugar bushes have been cut down and lost in the process. Unfortunately in times of duress families do not receive the full market value of the timber as a result of a quick sale to take care of financial obligations. This often compounds the agony of estate settlement. They also do not take the time to explore all of the options for utilizing their woodlot.
Today a profitable maple operation relies heavily on technology to be successful and that includes a vacuum tubing system. Installing a tubing system requires a long term (7 to 10 years) lease. Many landowners are hesitant about entering into this type of agreement for a variety of reasons. One of the primary reasons is that the owner does not want to be bound to a binding contract if something would happen and he had to sell the property. Even if a sale is not forthcoming coming many owners are uncertain about how their actions might impact the next generation. This needs to be a consideration when designing a lease. There need to be an emergency escape clause that protects the rights of both parties. One ways of softening this objection is for the owner to get a substantial financial return for leasing the woods. Consider the fact that an average lease on cropland now starts at $100.00 per acre (this is high for some areas and low for others). This means that woods with 80 taps, renting for $1.00 per tap would be equivalent to many cropland leases. This also this also demonstrates why maple lease rates need to start at $1.00 per tap to keep a woodlot lease comparable to a cropland lease. The only way to determine a rental rate is to accurately estimate the number of taps per acre.
Since the millennium it has become increasingly hard to find an unused sugarbush in prime condition in Ohio. Often times a maple producer hears about a stand of timber that might be available for taping and he decides to look at it and it falls way short of his expectations. I can tell you from experience that I have walked more than one woodlot where the owner was sure he enough trees to make syrup. Yes he did have maple trees but not nearly enough to be economically feasible for maple production. The reason for this is that many of the woodlots are 2nd and 3rd growth timber containing large numbers of smaller trees. Because these woods containing trees that are not ready for a timber harvest due to their size the owner is years away from harvest and potential financial gain. This makes maple syrup production a very viable option that can be attractive to the owner because he can get an immediate financial return from his woodlot. On the other side, the producer is looking at single tap trees and trees that may not immediately be big enough to tap for several years. The long term goal of the producer should be to convince the woodlot owner that maple syrup production is a worthwhile use of his resource resulting in the continuation of the lease over time. If these were large mature maples it would be very difficult to make a case that he could make more money by leasing for maple syrup production. In this case the only chance you have is to increase the rental rate and make a case for selective harvest that will preserve some of the larger trees. In both cases the axiom; “The best way to preserve sugarbush is to tap a sugarbush” , applies.
What are the criteria that I go by to determine the feasibility of transforming a woodlot into a sugarbush? Start with a good layout plan. The producer wants to avoid excessively long mainlines going to trees scattered over a wide area. Slope is important but there are ways to work around slope issues. The most common problem with slope is that the woods often slope away from the collection point. This problem is usually solved with the installation of auxiliary tanks, long pump lines and a transfer pump big enough to handle the volume of sap produced. All of this adds to the cost of installing the tubing. The best way to determine layout is to use a GIS map with contours to find high and low points. If you are lucky enough to find a woodlot where to dominant tree is the sugar maple of tapable size and those trees are dispersed evenly across the landscape, you have found a real Jewel. However, most time you end up with sugar maples mixed in with red maple and other hardwood species. A good sugarbush will average 80 taps per acre. Anything below 50 taps per acre is considered marginal. If it is in a woods that has been previously harvested then size of the tree (smaller than 10 inch cum.) becomes an issue. You need to use an angle gauge or prism to determine size at a distance. For closer examination a 32 inch circumference chain will equate to 10 inch diameter tree. The best way to determine tap numbers is to lay out a circle with a 26.4 inch radius from the center. Count all of the tapable trees in that circle and multiply that number by 20 to give you the number of taps in an acre. Example (in a circle with a 26.4 inch radius) 5 taps X 20 = 100 taps per acre. You want to do this randomly at multiple locations across the woods. Average all the results of those locations together to come up with an average number of taps per acre for the woodlot.
Now it is time to develop a management plan. A well-managed vacuum tubing system should produce ½ gallon of syrup per tap. At $50.00 per gallon that grosses you from $1250 up to $2000.00 per acre. That is a gross return, all of your production expenses including your labor needs to be deducted to give you a net return on you investment and your cost to produce a gallon of syrup. One of those costs is the initial cost of installing your tubing, spread over a 10 year period.. You need to know your cost of production before you can put together a lease offer.
What are the selling points of a good lease? A good lease agreement is built on the premise of Best Management Practices. This includes tree size determination, general tapping practices, access for the owner and operator, BMP responsibility, owner liability protection and finally rent per tap. All of these need to be adapted to the woodlot you are trying to rent. For example the owner depends on the woods as a source for firewood. He has to have access to the woods in the off season. You must lay out your system to allow access. This includes being able to disconnect certain mainlines and removing several laterals to allow for that access. He is also concerned about liability if you or one of your workers gets hurt in the woods while making syrup. You need to include him in your insurance liability policy as a co-insured, taking the risk off of him while you are on his property.
You now have a reasonable lease offer that works for you but will you be able to sell the idea to the landowner. You need to put yourself in the shoes of the landowner and ask yourself would you consider entering into this contract if it were offered to you. Hopefully the answer is yes but if it is not then you need to reassess the plan before moving on. What happens next will determine the success or failure of adding this woodlot to your operation. You now become a salesman trying to convince the owner that this is a good idea and both of you will benefit. If you have done your homework and you make your case honestly and sincerely you should be successful in expanding your maple syrup operation.
It is now the 20th of February and the temperatures have dipped to 20 below zero. In Rome, Ohio, Central Ashtabula County the temps dipped to 39 below zero. Enough already! Last year at this time many of us in Northeast Ohio were headed to the woods to tap. In 2014 we had extremely cold temperatures but they occurred in January. None of us will forget the “Polar Vortex”. This was a new weather term and it quickly became the definition of extremely cold weather. This time around we have to go back 20 years to become reacquainted with a very old weather term “The Siberian Express.” This is cold air that is literally pushed across the North Pole and driven deep into the heart of the United States. The last time we had this kind of outbreak was in 1994. We set a record cold record on January 21, 1994. However, that did not affect maple syrup production that year. In 1994 Ohio had one of its better years producing 90,000 gallons of syrup. The only difference was that the cold weather came in January. In fact we had a hard winter in 2008 and had a break out year with 150,000 gallon produced.
The secret to producing syrup in a cold year is to be ready to go when the weather breaks and it will break. Another thing you may have to deal with is tapping into frozen wood. Trees are like glass, very fragile in cold weather. Drive a spout to hard and you run the risk of splitting the tree above and below the spout. This crack will leak not only sap but vacuum. On the other hand if your spout is loose it will need to be reset once the tree has thawed out. Under these conditions it always better to under drive the spout than split the tree. In many cases you will probably need to reset a large percentage of spouts anyway installed under frozen conditions. This is something that large producers deal with annually because the often start tapping early during very cold weather.
The snow in the woods is another thing that you have to deal with, unless we get a big thaw. The snow can be your enemy and it can be your friend. Snow creates all kinds of problems. Mainlines and laterals can be pinned under the snow and gathering trails will be blocked. In this case I would much rather have to deal with a few lines under snow than having to clear trails. The amount of snow at the base of your trees is your guide to what has to be done first. With mainlines you may have to do some shoveling in the areas where the lines are close to the ground or if they are pinned by a fallen branch. Be very careful digging out around saddles, you do not want to damage your saddle connections. If you damage a hole where a saddle is connected you will run the risk of creating a vacuum leak. In this case you may have to splice the mainline so that you do not run the risk of a vacuum leak. There is no real good way to seal a damaged mainline at the saddle connection. These can turn into some of your worst leakage problems. With pinned laterals you simply cut the lines, pull them out from under the snow and reconnect. Try to do this at existing connection points to avoid adding more splices. In many cases the line is down because a limb has fallen on it. This means that all of the connecting points have been stressed resulting in possible vacuum leaks. In most cases a few warm days and the snow will settle away from the lines. The big thing is to be tapped when this happens. Having a snow pack in the woods can be beneficial in that it will keep your woods cool and wet. A slow melt off of a snow bank will not only keep the woods cool during the day but will promote reflective cooling at night often resulting in below freezing temperatures. A good thing! The big thing is the slow release of moisture from the snow pack. This is additional moisture to be sucked up by the trees creating a sap flow. Something that often occurs in cold weather is that a portion of the sugar bush, that is exposed to long periods of sunlight, southern exposures, will run first and the areas that are more shaded like a northern slope will run last. Using the above facts as a guide, get your traditionally warmer areas tapped first and then concentrate on the colder portions. In cold years the cool areas hold snow longer and tend run very good at the end of the season. This can be a real season stretcher. However, do not use this as an excuse to put all of your taps on the warm side of the tree. This is an old wives tail and a bad practice. It is always best to follow some form of systematic tapping.
A few thoughts on getting around in deep snow cover, aka; snowshoes. I have tried them with mixed feelings. Do not go the metro park, try them out and think this is easy. Walking on a groomed trail is way different than walking in the woods. The size of the shoe required is determined by weight. Use as small pair as you can in the woods to help getting snagged on brush. Yes they keep you on top of the snow but for me it was like trying to walk with a bushel basket on each foot. On our first adventure my partner and I looked like Yogi Bear and Boo Boo going through the woods. One other tip, you had better be in good physical shape before you go out. This will be one of the best cardio workouts you will ever experience. One of the first things I learned was that snowshoes can quickly turn into skis on a slope. You need to master the side step or risk a dangerous slide into a ravine. Been there done that, not fun! Yes they get the job done and will get you across the snow. However, I will leave snowshoes to the thin athletic New Englanders and French Canadians who promote them. Have good start to the season and until then stay warm.
Geauga County OSU Extension
Author: Les Ober Geauga County OSU Extension
The recent warm spell had many maple producer fired up and ready to tap. If you frequent the maple chat lines like Maple Trader or Sugar bush Info you heard a lot of speculation on when where and how to tap. There appears to be as many theories on tapping as there are tap holes. Let’s look at the tapping process.
The first thing to remember about tapping trees whether you tap early or late is that you only have one chance to get it right. Making a mistake the first time can screw up the whole season. It is more important how you tap than when you tap. First we need to take a look the trees and determine which ones to tap. To do this we follow a set of tapping guidelines that are published in the North American Maple Syrup Manual. Depending on whether you follow the traditional or the conservative guidelines you will be tapping a tree no smaller in diameter than 10 to 12 inches. This is where a recent study done by the Univ. of Vt. Proctor Lab in Underhill Center VT adds clarity to the ongoing debate. The research work was done by Dr. Abby van den Berg at Proctor at high yield sugar bushes throughout Vermont. High yield was operations with vacuum systems using 20 plus inches of vacuum to collect sap. What Dr van den Berg found out, was that the current conservative tapping guidelines of 12 inches in diameter minimum size was correct for tubing systems using modern high vacuum collection systems.
The study compared the percentage of functional and non-functional wood in the trees of different diameter and applications. Functional wood is new growth wood, the kind you can tap intoand get peak production. Non-functional is the dead wood that is left behind as a result of tapping. This wood is the stained non-productive wood that you see in cross sections of maples that have been tapped. At 12 in. diameter a healthy tree will regenerate enough new growth (90% or greater functional wood) to maintain tree growth and adequate sugar production to maintain tree health. Trees under 12 inches saw a steady decrease in the percentage functional wood at an earlier age. This is important because you want to consistently be tapping into new wood year after. If the percentage of functional wood is on the decline this makes it harder year after year to find new wood to tap into. It could lead to a decline in overall tree health and productivity. A quick way to determine tree size is to use a rope 38 inches in. long. If you get to a tree and you place the rope around the tree and the two ends of the rope do not touch you have a tree at least 12 inches in diameter. There were other factors that could influence the reduction of functional wood.
The standard drop line length recommended and used in this study is 30 inches. It was found that if the drop length was reduced it intern reduced the tapping zone of that of the tree. The result was a decline in the functional wood area at an earlier age. This is very important because as we work on drop lines making repairs or installing new spouts it is not uncommon to see them getting shorter and shorter. This greatly reduces the tapping area on that tree. If you are following the new tap sanitation recommendation of replacing drop lines every other year you can overcome this problem of short drop lines by replacing them with new 30 inch drops. Also consider on trees with very large diameters you may need a longer drop line. Another factor is using the old style large spout. This will increase the size of the non-functional wood for each tap. It is always wise to use the new 5/16 tap if you want to promote tree health.
The study at Proctor used a 1 ½ tapping depth with the 5/16 spout throughout the study. That is the correct tapping depth for today’s maple operations and maintaining that depth can be difficult. One way is to put a piece of tubing over the bit exposing 1 ½ inches of bit allowing you to reproduce that depth each time you drill. Also consider how you drill. Make sure you hold the drill straight drilling a round hole, angled slightly downward. Wiggle the drill and you have an oval shape hole that will leak not only sap but vacuum. Do this enough time and you will be losing vacuum all over the place. Use a sharp bit that cleans the shavings out of the hole. Shavings left in the hole will attract and promote bacterial growth. The spout must be seated properly but do not over drive the tap causing it to split on top and on the bottom. Use a light tapping hammer and leave the sledge hammer at home. Today most producers use cordless drills to tap. It is important to use a drill you are comfortable with, not only the first hour but at the end of the day. The new drills with Lithium batteries are light and are a good investment both in battery longevity and ease of handling.
Establish a tapping pattern that you use every year, such as 6 inches over and 6 inches up or moving to the opposite side of the tree. Do not try to tap a tree year after year on the south side because someone told you it would run early. With buckets expand you dumping zone to include high and low buckets. What is important is getting the job done right the first time. Remember there is pride in bragging you tapped 1000 today if half of them are screwed up. Slow down and make your work count. Here is the website for the Univ. of VT factsheet http://nsrcforest.org/project/sustainable-tapping-guidelines-modern-maple-syrup-production