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2021 Maple Production: NASS Survey in Review

The 2021 NASS Maple Syrup Production Report was published June 10th.  Production in the United States dropped 700,000 gallons from 4,111,000 in 2020 to 3,424,000 in 2021. Vermont production declined 500,000 gallons from 1,950,00 in 2020 to 1,540,000 in 2021. NY dropped 157,000 gallons from 804,000 in 2020 to 647,000 gallons in 2021. Oddly enough, Maine held steady missing last year’s production by only 5,000 gallons (495,000 gallons total). Maine’s production has been remarkably stable over the last three years. Of the seven states polled only Wisconsin showed an increase in production. The Badger State increased production from 265,000 in 2020 to 300,000 in 2021. Pennsylvania, the closest state to Ohio geographically and often mirroring our production, recorded 165,000 gallons in the 2021 NASS survey, down 13,000 gallons from last year. Ohio is not listed because they and six other states were dropped from NASS’ survey in 2019.

There were many reasons for this year’s decline in maple production. Nationally, sap was collected for 27 days compared to 34 in 2020. In most regions, prolonged cold weather delayed the season start even though this was not reflected in the statistics. The survey actually showed normal start and stop dates; the extended bouts of time when it was too cold for sap to run is obscured in the more general averages and reflected in the total collection days. Many states started around the first of February and then experienced a 3-week shutdown due to abnormally cold weather. This weather pattern was particularly hard on states like Vermont and New York. Once the weather did warm up, temperatures rose quickly and, for the most part, permanently dramatically closing the season by the start of April.

Another statistic worth looking at is number of taps. The number of new taps has not increased dramatically over the last 3 years in the United States. Taps counted 13,400,000 in 2019, declined in 2020, and rebounded back to 13,335,000 in 2021. Only the state of New York has shown a steady increase in number of taps each of the last three years.

Yield per tap is calculated as the amount of syrup (in gallons) produced per tap in any given year, and this measure is determined for each state. The yield per tap declined from 2020 to 2021, hardly a surprise given the shortened season. The United States average declined from 0.314 to 0.257. States like Vermont and New York saw a decline whereas Wisconsin was the only state holding levels above 0.300 gallons per tap.

What goes into a making a good yield per tap? Normally it indicates a higher level of production especially in the well managed sugarbushes. Consider the fact that this is a statewide metric that averages together producers on high vacuum with producers utilizing buckets and bags. A year like 2021 can be especially hard on bucket producers. Anything over 0.300 (roughly 1/3 gallon of syrup per tap) is considered good, and if a state exceeds this level, you can be assured the high vacuum, high volume producers are pushing 0.500 per tap or more. These are all good benchmarks to rank your personal performance as an individual producer. If you are producing just under a half gallon of syrup per tap in an average year you are doing okay. Is there room for improvement? Yes. There are producers in our own state of Ohio pushing one gallon of syrup per tap – a goal to shoot for!

Overall, the NASS 2021 report contained no surprises. Remember this is a domestic United States report only and does not reflect Canadian production. As we all know, north of the border production is what drives the maple market and that is not likely to change anytime soon.  Long story short, United States production fell this year, but syrup in reserve in places like Quebec will likely stabilize the overall market and prevent any large interruptions.

Author: Les Ober, Geauga County Extension

July-October Webinar Series through UVM

Beginning Wednesday, July 21st, the University of Vermont is offering an excellent line-up of 8 webinars spanning into October.

The full topic line-up includes Total Yields from Red Maple (7/21), Maple Start-up Profiles and Financial Benchmarks (7/28), Best Practices for Birch Syrup Flavor (8/11), Sugarbush Inventory Methods (8/25), Sap-only Enterprises (9/15), Binding Contracts and Legal Agreements (9/29), Maple Forests and Carbon (10/13), and Northeast Forest Land Taxes and Programs (10/27).  While not all topics will apply directly to Buckeye State maple producers, many do and promise to be highly informative.

Full details with registration links are available here.

Maple Syrup History Site

Some of you may already be familiar with the Maple Syrup History website, but I am sure this will be new news to others.

Maple Syrup History is a smattering of historical accounts, product history, state-based events and turning points, and more – in the author’s own words, “a wide range of interests in all things maple.”  Matthew Thomas, an independent researcher with a PhD in Environmental Studies from University of Wisconsin, has been researching, compiling, and writing about maple history for over 20 years.

With so much content to sift through and peruse, I would encourage you to scroll down and keep your eye on the right margin for the Categories section where you can search specific topics.  OHIO is on the list, that’s a great place to start!

ACER Research Update: June 2021

We are continuing to make progress on our ACER grant “Freeman’s maple (red x silver) potential for syrup production and resilience in Ohio’s forests.”  Earlier in the month, we collected a series of reference samples from Secrest Arboretum and other locations of pure red maples, pure silver maples, and Freeman’s maples to dial in our approach for identifying individual trees in the Ohio State University-Mansfield research sugarbush via genetics.  The Molecular & Cellular Imaging Center at Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center (OARDC) in Wooster is processing the tissue samples in order to refine our genetic markers that are particularly useful for pinpointing hybridity of the Freeman’s or “rilver” maple.

How does one use genetics to identify different species or hybrids between two species?

Labs can slice out key segments of the DNA chain from extracted genetic material from plant cells, tissues, and seeds.  Once the right part of the DNA chain is isolated, a process called amplification copies and replicates the genomic material to make the diagnostic markers easier to interpret.  Polymerase chain reaction (PCR for short) is the most common method of amplification.

Try thinking about amplification this way.

You have no doubt used a photocopier in the past.  PCR is just a biotechnology copying machine.  Just as you might use your office equipment to make 100 copies of a single page out of a big book, PCR allows you to make copies of only the DNA piece that holds the information of interest.  There is one key difference (among many!) between your normal office copier and this biotech PCR process though.  A copier makes a stack of copies 1, 2, 3, 4, …97, 98, 99, and 100.  PCR makes copies more efficiently, exponentially actually – 1, 2, 4, 8, 16, …128, 256, 512, so on and so forth.

Enough about amplification, what can we do with diagnostic markers once we have made a whole bunch of duplicates.  Genetic markers are essentially genetic fingerprints.  The unique segments of DNA – the genetic fingerprints – differentiate different species from one another or show varying degrees of hybridity.  These fingerprints can be visualized with another lab process called gel electrophoresis.  Another big word, apologies.  But the main point is this – gels allow us to see, actually see with the naked eye, the genetic fingerprint of our sample and allow us to decide which species or hybrid we are examining.

Above is a panel of genetic fingerprints for differentiating silver maple on the left and red maples on the right.  The image was published as part of a study in 2019.  You can see that silver maples on the left are characterized by two bright bold lines at the bottom of the panel and a third almost halfway up.  Red maples, on the other hand, share the top and bottom band with silver maples, but have a different unique fingerprint with the second marker landing halfway in between.

Enough Genetics 101 for now…the ACER research continues to progress, and we are working toward a more reliable way of understanding how much red versus silver maple genetics are in our “rilver” research maples.

Author: Gabe Karns, OSU Mansfield & SENR

Maple Programming Survey – Please Participate!

Last week, we shared the exciting news that Ohio Maple Days will be making its IN-PERSON return on December 11th in Ashland, OH.

Ohio Maple Days Save the Date Flyer – December 11, 2021

This week, we want to invite you to participate in a survey to help inform statewide maple programming into the future.  By ranking your interest level across different maple-related topics and providing specific content ideas, we plan to use survey feedback to mold and shape high quality maple programming at Ohio Maple Days and other events – outreach and education that is most useful and most valuable to maple producers throughout the Buckeye State.

Click here to participate anonymously in the survey.

Ohio Maple Days Announcements

We are excited to announce that Ohio Maple Days will be returning IN-PERSON on December 11th after a necessary virtual COVID-19 interruption earlier in January.  Mark your calendars for December 11th in Ashland, Ohio, and get ready to rendezvous with maple producers from around the state to hear great talks from excellent speakers, browse a selection of maple vendors, and reconnect face-to-face with your maple community.

Switching Ohio Maple Days to a one-day main event and moving from January to early December is not exactly going back to the way things were pre-pandemic, but the decisions were collectively made after much discussion between Gary Graham, the Ohio Maple Producers Association board, and the rest of the Ohio State maple team.

Please read the following letter from Gary Graham expressing his delight in the 2+ decades of organizing Ohio Maple Days, and his optimism for the future of Ohio Maple Days moving forward.

Stay tuned for registration details in the next month or two.  Check back next week to participate in a survey that solicits your topic preference for maple programming at Ohio Maple Days and other events in the future.

Annual Sugar Maple Leaf Drop from Petiole Borer

Joe Boggs, Assistant Professor with OSU Extension and the Department of Entomology, is a regular contributor to Buckeye Yard & Garden onLine (BYGL for short).  Last week, he released an article on maple petiole borer which can cause leaf drop on otherwise healthy maple trees.  The petiole borer has a preference for sugar maples though other species are sometimes affected.  Thankfully petiole borers are not a serious threat to the long-term health of infested trees, but moderate to heavy leaf drop at this time of year can certainly raise concern levels if you don’t know the root cause of the issue…now you know!!

For full article, click here.

Forest Change through Time: A Woodworking Project

My eye caught upon this unique woodworking project at a friend’s house over Memorial Day weekend festivities.  Eventually my appreciation was replaced by conversation, and I’m happy that my friend was willing to share a photograph of his handiwork with the Ohio Maple Site.

He was inspired to create the art piece by 2 primary literature sources.  The first – an article in the academic journal PLOS ONE entitled “Four Centuries of Change in Northeastern United States Forests” – provided most of the tree composition data from 1600 to present at half century increments.  The second – a book chapter entitled “New England’s Forest Landscape: Ecological Legacies and Conservation Patterns Shaped by Agrarian History” was authored by researchers at Harvard and a few other universities.  This second resource provided data on forest cover percentages for the region over the same time span.

To focus more on the art itself, the height of each overall column represents the percentage of forest cover in the northeastern United States, which reached a low point in the mid-late 19th century.  Each individual wooden panel tracks a common tree species or genus through time; from bottom to top: beech, oak, maple, hemlock, birch, pine, chestnut, ash, and fir.  Chestnut notably disappears in the jump from 1850 to 1900 as a result of the chestnut blight, and ash will certainly be affected similarly during this time step from 2000 to 2050 due to the emerald ash borer.

But maple, oh maple!  Maple has asserted its dominance throughout many portions of the northeastern United States, and maple now has more standing stock volume than any other species group region-wide.  And it’s not even close.  The reasons and driving factors are diverse, and perhaps someday we’ll write some posts to address the why of broad shifts in tree species composition.  But for now, let’s just admire a truly unique and inspired piece of artwork that tells a story we can all appreciate.

Author: Gabriel Karns, Ohio State

The 2021 Ohio Maple Syrup Production Report

Looking back on Ohio’s maple syrup season, production was lower than last year, but it could have been a lot worse. The season was short for most Ohio producers lasting 30 days or less. Ohio’s crop came in around 70 to 80 percent of normal overall. Because of the warm weather, syrup generally graded out in the Amber to Dark Robust range. However, there was still a fair amount of Golden made in the northern part of the state. If you look at the markets and what customers seem to prefer, this is right in line with the increasing demand for the darker grades of syrup. The earliest start dates were in the last week of January, but early starters were not rewarded this year. A massive cold air invasion that lasted until the 20th of February delayed tapping across the state. Most producers reported their first boil in the last couple days of February or first couple days of March. For nearly everyone, the season ended by March 25th. It is not often that you see seasons this shortened without a total collapse in production. Over the last several years, there seems to be a drop in the percentage of maple sap sugar as well. Percentages of sap sugar were on the lower end again this year averaging around 1.7 percent sugar.

To have a season end because of a combination of too cold, too hot, and too dry conditions is very unusual, but that is exactly what happened in Ohio. Extreme weather once again was the dominant factor in 2021. The end of 2020 and the beginning of 2021 saw a strong La Nina weather pattern take control of the region’s weather. This resulted in one of the warmest Decembers and Januarys on record. Cold and snow dominated the month of February setting up a chance for a good season even though the start was delayed.   When you consider what happened in February, everyone knew this season would be different from the last several. A massive Arctic air mass (Polar Vortex) drove deep into the heartland of America and dominated February, but the prolonged cold did set up some outstanding early sap runs when things finally warmed. Unfortunately, the ideal sugar making weather would be short lived.

Producers soon realized that the dominant warm weather experienced in December and January was not gone. Hello again La Nina! The return of warm weather did kick off a record sap flow that lasted about a week, but Mother Nature teased local maple producers with a very fickle freeze/thaw cycle that showed no signs of sustaining a sap run through the end of March. The final blow came on March 20th. This would be the last freeze followed by 4 days of 70-degree weather.  Most of the producers lamented the shortness of the season, but if we are honest with ourselves, the unique combination and variety of weather conditions could have dealt a worse blow to production.

We had an excellent season in 2020 and the demand for syrup was outstanding despite the pandemic. Now hopefully, the 2021 season was good enough to take care of the demand until the 2022 season arrives in 8 or 9 more months.

Author: Les Ober, Geauga County OSU Extension