Tag Archives: Maple Syrup Production
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.
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.
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
The word came back to Ohio; from producers attending the annual maple manufactures open houses that it was going to be a big year in New England for maple syrup production. Many of the big northern Vermont and New Hampshire producers were not present, they were boiling syrup. When the steam cleared and the last syrup was drawn off, Vermont produced a record 1.9 million gallons of syrup in one season. Let that sink in, it was only 10 years ago that we struggled to produce 2 million gallons in all of the United States and in 2016 the State of Vermont alone produced almost 2 million gallons beating their 2013 record crop of 1.48 million gallons. The United States produced 4.2 million gallons the amount of maple syrup recorded since the early 1900’s. The top 5 producing states included New York with 707,000 gallons, Maine 675,000 gallons, Wisconsin 235,000 gallons and New Hampshire with 169,000 gallons of pure maple syrup.
With all of that syrup produced in the United States you can only imagine what they did north of the boarder. Yes it was big, it was really big. The Canadian crop is projected at 13.5 million gallons. This would set a new record for Canadian maple syrup produced and because most of that syrup is produced in the Province of Quebec; they set a record as well. This is a monster crop and no one knows what affect it will have on the price of maple syrup especially the bulk price. You can rest assured that there will not be any shortage of pure maple syrup in the world for some time. What about Ohio, unfortunately we are not sharing in the record crop celebration.
Ohio Maple Producers knew it was going to be a disappointing year for maple syrup production and the USDA NASS report verified their worst fears. 2016 was a real bummer across the entire state. The total production for the state dropped from 115,000 gallons in 2015 to 70,000 gallons in 2016. The Yield per tap is general ly a good production indicator. Over the previous two seasons (2014 & 2015) the average amount of syrup produced per tap was 0.275 of a gallon of syrup produced per tap. In 2016 the production dropped to 0.189 of a gallon per tap. Normally Ohio will exceed most states in production per tap but this year’s production was on the verge of disaster. The sugar content of the sap (often near or below 1%) certainly did not help the overall per tap production of syrup.
Another statistic that was very puzzling was the total number of taps recorded for 2016. This year the number of taps put out in Ohio dropped from 450,000 to 370,000 taps. In the last 10 years the number of taps in Vermont and New York almost doubled Vermont is just shy of 5 million taps and NY is right at 2.5 million. What is going on in Ohio? Why are we in a statistical state of decline? A better question would be is there really a decline? Working with extension and the Ohio maple industry for the last 18 years I have witnessed an overall expansion of the industry. It has not been unusual to see the number of operations with over 3000 taps increasing every year. I know of several that are over 10,000 taps. We will never be in the same category as New York or Vermont but our maple industry is growing. However, when you look at the statistics we are not a growth industry we are an agricultural industry in decline.
The reality is that a large portion of the actual production of maple syrup in Ohio is not getting reported. There is an old saying that “if it is worth doing, it is worth doing well”. I believe that Ohio maple producers are doing a good job of producing syrup but for some reason they are reluctant to let the world know how good a job they are doing. Why is it important to report your crop? The world rewards those that achieve excellence. In the case of maple syrup production that reward comes in the form of consumer demand for your product and increased retail sales.
Les Ober Geauga Co. OSU Extension
Ohio State University Extension
When you bring up the subject of vacuum, one of the first questions producers ask is what size vacuum pump will I need to run my system? They also ask if the old rotary vane pump their grandfather abandon in the barn is good enough? The question I ask them is; what vacuum level do you want to run at today and into the future. As I stated in Part I there are two way to measure vacuum pump performance, inches of mercury and CFM. Inches of Mercury measure the negative pressure produced when air leaves the line. For example if 50% of the air is removed then the inches of mercury should be 15. At 25 inches of mercury approximately 85% of the air has been removes from the lines. CFM on the other hand measures the amount of air being evacuated from the lines measure in cubic feet per minute. Pumps are rated (CFM) on their ability to remove air and this largely determines the size of the pump. Two other factors come into play when comparing vacuum pumps. One is the horsepower rating. As the air is removed from an enclosed area the molecules of air in that air become very sparse. The pump has to work harder as the air becomes thinner. The pump also has to overcome the force of the negative pressure inside that area. This requires more horsepower. A larger CFM rating does this faster but requires more Hp. The other factor is pump speed. If you turn a pump faster your will move more air and will increase the capacity. However, over speeding a pump can cause excessive wear on the pump. To answer the second question first, Grandpas pump is not designed to produce anything over 15 inches of vacuum and that is not high vacuum. Most of the liquid ring, flood vacuum rotary claw and new age rotary vane pumps are designed to run at vacuum levels up to 29 inches. Remember all of the pump ratings and their ability to increase vacuum level are done at the factory removing air from a sealed vessel. From this information a performance curve is developed. What makes this whole process more confusing is that many maple equipment companies are now listing there pump sizes by motor horsepower instead by CFM capacity. As pointed out motor Hp is only one factor determining pump capacity. When questioned about CFM, one dealer told me his pump will develop 11 cfm at 29 inches of vacuum. This has to be a specification taken off of a performance curve taken at the factory. The question I have how likely is that pump will ever reach 29 in of vacuum in a maple system? The fairest comparison should be made when the CFM is measured on a pump being run at 15 inches of vacuum. Otherwise unless you have performance curve data in hand for every pump you are considering how you can make a fair comparison. Will the pump be able to deliver 29 inches in the woods at a higher elevation, hooked to thousands of feet of line that is anything but leak free?
Are the dealers wrong when they tell you that your pump will produce 29 inches vacuum? The answer that question is yes and no. As stated most pumps are capable and have been tested to deliver 29 inches of vacuum. This is clearly shown on the pump performance curve. However because the performance curve is read at the barometric pressure at sea level an adjustment for elevation above sea level needs to be made. For every 1000 feet of elevation you lose 1 inch of vacuum, this means the highest vacuum level achievable at an altitude of 2000 feet is around 28 inches depending on the barometric reading on any given day. So what is going on when a producer tells you that his pump gauge mounted somewhere nears the inlet of you pump is reading 28 inch of vacuum but out in the woods it is 18 in. or less? Is that wrong? The answer to the second question is no. Because of line diameter is restricting the flow (Line Loss), the vacuum pump has the ability remove all of the air from the system within a short distance of the pump inlet. This phenomenon occurs because the pump can pull air out faster than the line can deliver it, thus creating a small area of high vacuum close to the pump. The gauge at the pump measures only the vacuum in that area. This is graphically displayed in the line loss charts used in the Cornell New York State Tubing and vacuum system notebook. A 60 CFM pump set at 15 hg hooked to a 3 “ line can maintain over 40 CFM out to 5000 feet. That same pump hooked to ¾ inch line is incapable of delivering 15 in. of vacuum at 25 feet. This is covered in a previous post; April 24, 2013 How Can I Get More Vacuum Where I Need it? The pump is only one part of the total system. If the line diameter is too small it will reduce the capacity of the pump to remove air. The reality is that the only vacuum reading that counts is the reading that is taken out in the woods at the last tap.
How do you determine the CFM capacity of the pump that will best fit in your operation? The NY State Tubing Vacuum Notebook (NSTVN) written at Cornell University by State Maple Specialist Steve Childs states that to go from 15 inches to 18 inches of vacuum of vacuum you need to increase the CFM capacity of your system by 50%. You start with the number of taps you have on the system. Let’s say you have 3000 taps. You know that for every 100 taps you need 1 CFM to keep up with the air and gases coming into the system primarily from the trees. This means that it would take a least a 30 CFM pump to remove the air that is coming into the system from the outside. The vacuum level under these conditions would be somewhere around 12 Hg. The NSVTN states that for every 1 in of vacuum you will lose 10% of the capacity of the pump. In order to increase that vacuum level to 18 in or beyond you would need to increase the pump size by at least 50 %. That would mean that you would need a 45 CFM pump. This is only 18 inches of vacuum and you want to produce a high vacuum rate of at least 25 inches. This is based on research done at UVM Proctor Research Center you need to have at least 25 in of vacuum in the lines to get near optimum sap production. However to get to 25 in vacuum you would need to add 7 more inches of vacuum. Starting with a 45 CFM pump running at 18 in of vacuum, using the 10% loss for every 1hg gain you would end up with only 13.5 CFM (4.5 X 7 = 31.5 – 45 = 13.5 CFM). If you go to 75 CFM pump it translates 22.5 CFM (7.5 X 7 = 52.5 – 75 = 22.5), which falls 7.5 CFM short. A 100 CFM pump translates to 30 CFM (10 X 7 = 70 – 100= 30), enough to run the 3000 tap woods at 25 in of vacuum. Again all pumps are not created equal motor size and pump revolution speed come into play. These are just guidelines, some systems are easier to operate than other and it depends on well you manage your system for leaks.
Now let’s look at the yield side, again based on research done at UVM Proctor Research Center. In their study determining the yield up to 25 in of vacuum was their goal. The study shows that sap yield doubles when vacuum is taken from 0 to 15 in. From 0 to 15 in. there was a 8 gal per tap increase, from 15 to 20 in. there was a 3 gal increase and from 20 to 25 in. a 2.5 gallon increase. At 25 in. vacuum you have added 14 gallons of sap per tap. However, at 20 in of vacuum you have added 11 gallons of sap.. So what would happen if you settled for working at a lower vacuum level? If you backed down to 22inches of vacuum a 45 CFM pump would deliver 27 CFM just short of the amount needed. Going up to a 60 CFM pump would deliver 36 CFM, adequate to run the woods with some reserve. You would raise your production by 12 gallons per tap per season. That is 80% of your original goal of 14 gallons per tap.
You have now made all of the calculations and are beginning to understand the logic and principal behind setting up a vacuum tubing system. The one thing we did not mention was the importance of reserve vacuum. You also need to factor in the vacuum that is needed to run a manual releaser (at least 5 CFM) and anything else like lifts and vacuum piston pumps. All of these eat up CFM. You do not want to be maxed out on CFM capacity when Mr. Bushy Tail shows up. Factor in another 3 – 5CFM in reserve vacuum and hope he does not bring his relatives. Your system need capacity to recover from leaks and other unforeseen problems and it need to do it as quick as possible. In my small world of maple production I am not comfortable with anything under 35CFM. Here’s why! Our home woods only have 400 taps, the requirement to run those taps is only 4 CFM but I have maxed out a 35 CFM pump. Here is how we did it. First we have long mainlines because the woods is spread out. Secondly most the lines drain to a low point that is totally inaccessible to sap pickup. We use a lift to bring the sap forward to the releaser. We then move the sap from the releaser tank to road via vacuum operated piston pump. No one in their right mind would have put tubing these woods but we did and it works. We maintain 25 inches at the releaser, 22 inches of vacuum at the lift and 18 to 20 inches at the end of the mainlines. I will replace that pump with a bigger one someday but in the meantime we are constantly looking for new innovative ways to conserver vacuum and utilize what we have in the best way possible. Just like everyone else we are spending countless hours looking for what Mr. Bushy Tail and his friends have done to our tubing. I cannot over emphasize the importance maintaining your system. The most important time you will invest in you maple syrup operation will be the time you spend in the woods managing your tubing system.
Footnote: Many producers are successfully rnning their vacuum systems over 25hg. They are successful because their system is properly designed and maintained.