Maple Sap-Only Enterprises – Participants NEEDED

Chris Lindgren and Dana Ruppert from University of Vermont are recruiting active or prospective maple sap-only producers to participate in a research project.

UVM Extension Maple Business is developing financial tools and technical guidance to help folks make decisions about maple sap business ventures.  To jump start this effort, they are currently conducting a Producer Survey to gather in-depth information on sap business economic activity across the maple region.  It is hoped that the information gained from the study will help maple sap producers understand and learn more about production practices, costs and markets to enhance business opportunities.  Production, marketing, business practices and peoples’ interest in the maple sap project and resources are at the heart of this survey.  Their goal is to reach as many regional sugarmakers and sap producers as we can over the next couple months.  The results of this survey will be published by UVM Extension, shared in industry publications and discussed at maple conferences beginning in 2023.

To take the survey – and remember this is for sap-only enterprises – please scan the QR code or visit Sap Survey at the Maple Manager website now.

This is a great opportunity to help the maple research community continue to build support and tools for all varieties and styles of maple operations.

Not Just Sugar Maples – Part II

Ohio Maple Days 2022 did not disappoint.  The food was fantastic, the vendor room crowded, and the presenters shared a wealth of knowledge of expertise across a wide range of subjects.  I was among those speakers, and Abby van den Berg and I presented a pair of talks that focused on those other maples.  Last week I shared a quick rundown of 20 short statements that summarize the Ohio work we have done from a high bird’s-eye viewpoint.  This week, we’ll check out Abby’s perspective from Vermont which focused on 4 central questions regarding red maples.  Before we get into it, be sure to mark your calendars for next year’s conference December 8th and 9th!

Abby van den Berg asked and attempted to answer 4 main questions of red maple.

  • Red maple, Are you as sweet as sugar maples?
  • Red maple, Do you have lower yields than sugar maples?
  • Red maple, Do you slow or stop running earlier than sugar maples?
  • Red maple, Does your sap make inferior or different-tasting syrup than sugar maples?

My main disclaimer, and one that I know Abby would echo, is that the answers she provided are pertinent and specific to a single research study in Vermont.  All of the answers should not be directly applied to Ohio, but there is certainly LOTS to learn and consider.  Why?  Well, Vermont is not Ohio, and this research is on reds and we have mystery maples.  So for a host of reasons – please learn from this incredibly interesting study, but do not directly project these results into your own woods.

FirstRed Maple, Are you as sweet as sugar maples?  The answer here is not a surprise, the answer is “no.”  Abby’s data was “very crude” by her own words, but Brix analysis shows that red maples track 0.2-03 Brix beneath sugar maples most of the season.  This is supported by our Ohio study and consistent with patterns we have observed.

SecondRed Maple, Do you have lower yields than sugar maples?  From the perspective of statistical difference, no – red maples do NOT have lower production potential than sugar maples.  In the Vermont studies, heavy sap flow counterbalanced the slightly lower Brix levels to result in similar production outputs between red and sugar maples.  Does this mean they are identical or equal?  Not necessarily, but per the study design, they are not different.

ThirdRed Maple, Do you slow or stop running earlier than sugar maples?   No.  The Vermont study produced no evidence that red maples slow down earlier than sugar maples.  Is this consistent with our Ohio results?  No.  Why?  We have some guesses and some hypotheses we’ve discussed, but this potential difference will be one to focus on as we learn more and more about these systems.

FourthRed Maple, Does your sap make inferior or different-tasting syrup than sugar maples?  A tasting experiment pitted red maple syrup (top row) against sugar maple syrup (bottom row) that was produced by trees in the same woods with the same methods at the same time under similar conditions as tightly controlled and identical as humanly possible.  Late-season syrup was deemed similar with respondents not able to differentiate between the 2 syrups.  Early-season syrup however did produce detectable differences in taste and profile.  Further research is ongoing to trace potential differences back to a source – was it a difference  in carbohydrates or invert levels, volatile aroma or flavor compounds?  Abby was not totally sure just yet, but I am sure we will find out what she discovers.  The most important finding here is that red maple syrup did not produce detectable late-season off-flavors as that is a common suspicion among maple producers.

You can read more about these results in the following article and recorded webinar:

Red Maple as Crop Trees for Maple Syrup Production

 

Not Just Sugar Maples – Part I

Ohio Maple Days 2022 did not disappoint.  The food was fantastic, the vendor room crowded, and the presenters shared a wealth of knowledge of expertise across a wide range of subjects.  I was among those speakers, and Abby van den Berg and I presented a pair of talks that focused on those other maples.  Abby’s perspective from Vermont and focused mainly on pure red maples (come back for Part II next week for those highlights), and my perspective sharing from the basis of our ACER-funded research on Acer freemanii, Freeman’s maple, or just “rilver” for short.  Before we get into it, be sure to mark your calendars for next year’s conference December 8th and 9th!

Let’s try this recap in a series of short statements.

1) Sugar maples are the gold standard for maple syrup production – there is no disputing that.

2) But other maple species probably deserve more love than they have traditionally been given.

3) Mounting pressures from climate change, forest pests, and a host of other reasons make other maple species more important to consider than ever before.

4) Because of the above, it makes sense to learn more about other maple species production potential.

5) We thought we had simple (red x silver) hybrid maples in the OSU Mansfield research sugarbush where we have our single-tree research stations.

6) We thought wrong.  Turns out the hybrid maples are more mysterious than that – stay tuned for further genetic testing!

7) Regardless of what other variety of maple we are working with it still made sense to compare their production potential and other characteristics to sugar maple.

8) Research began in the 2021 as we pulled over 20 sugar maples and 50 of the mystery maples into single-tree sap collection chambers that measured daily performance.

9) Research techs and research PI quickly learned that maple research can be icy cold!

10) The 2021 season was historically bad and we had 5 roller coaster runs total.

11) During the 2021 season, our mystery maples maintained Brix levels better than sugar maples albeit not quite as sweet overall as sugar maples.

12) Mystery maples lost ground to sugar maples in terms of sap production volume as the season got later and later.

13) Surprised yet?  Maybe not.  But consider this – the best half of our mystery maples OUTPERFORMED the worst half of our sugar maples in terms of syrup production potential.  Would that also hold true for 2022?

14) Fast forward 11 months to yet another choppy, wild, and erratic 2022 sap season.  When will we have another “normal” sap season?

15) Note to self, might have to add another 10 degrees to y-axis of Sap Run graph in 2023.  I surely hope not!!

16) More in line with studies elsewhere, our 2022 mystery maple trial trees matched or outpaced sugar maple’s sap volume production up until the final sap run of the year.

17) Brix consistently tracked 0.2-0.4 points below for mystery maples as compared to sugar maples.

18) Ultimately, we’re excited and hopeful for a “normal” 2023 season to collect data from a more representatively average season.

19) In the interim, both years suggest that mystery maples are not to be overlooked especially if you are an operator using reverse osmosis in your sugarhouse looking to expand your number of taps.

20) Stay tuned for 2023 – our 3rd year of ACER-funded research investigating alternative maple species production potential.

Getting Down to the Business of It All

Mark Cannella, Farm Business Management Specialist for University of Vermont Extension, ventured down to the Buckeye State to kick off our Ohio Maple Days weekend on Friday, December 9th.  Mark’s half-day seminar helped nearly 20 maple producers give serious consideration to their maple business plan.  From modules on strategic planning to marketing to managing finances and calculating true profitability, group discussions and active work sessions engaged participants.

No matter the scale of a single maple operation, our commodity market is determined by a host of macro factors that are sometimes easy to observe but as often are difficult to suss out.  At the level of the single operator, those macro factors mingle with local variables to produce a host of challenges and opportunities that vary year-to-year and even within a single season.

Participating operators asked hard questions that forced good conversations – conversations that sometimes ended in relatively clear answers, other questions that resulted in more…well, questions.

“How do I transition from a hobby to a business that can support my whole family?”

“Should I make that change truly believing it will be good for my family business in 2 generations future?”

“How can I better care for my trees?”

“How do I balance the need for equipment upgrades with the challenge of having enough labor to increase my number of taps?”

“How do I juggle maple and the rest of my responsibilities?”

These questions and more provided excellent fodder to stimulate 4+ hours of lively discussion.  Thanks to Mark for bringing his business planning expertise to Ohio!

Additional online business planning tools can be found at www.maplemanager.org.

Upcoming Maple Events

There is a flurry of upcoming maple programming and events to consider.

Of course, the International Maple Conference just concluded up in Lacrosse, Wisconsin held over the latter part of last week and weekend.

Next weekend, the Ohio Maple Producers Association are convening for a great line-up of food, fellowship, tours, and syrup contests.  Dates are Nov 4-5 and additional details can be found here.

Just a few days after, Seldom Seen Farm will host a Woodland Wednesday program from 4:00-7:00 PM on November 9th.  In collaboration with Geauga Soil and Water Conservation District, Geauga County Farm Bureau, NRCS, and host Seldom Seen Farm, speakers will discuss the relationship between modern forestry and the maple industry.  Specific topics will include thinning, tree crown development, soil conditions, and maple tubing in the sugarbush.  All are welcome to this free outdoor event that will benefit the landowner and woodsman alike.  Please RSVP to Kevin Holy at 440-596-9717 or via email (kevin@seldomseenmaple.com).

Lake Erie Maple Expo, the following weekend of November 11 and 12, will host its usual showcase of vendors, talks, and all and everything else maple.

Completing the first half of November flurry, Penn State Extension Educator Brian Walsh will discuss what is known about the spotted lanternfly and observations about maple trees that provide insight as to the impact the insect could have on the industry.  Pennsylvania has endured a longer stint of spotted lanternfly infestation than Ohio, and we can learn more about what to potentially expect by seeing what has been learned by our neighbors to the east.  Register for the November 16 – 10:00 AM webinar here.

Ohio Maple Boot Camp

We hosted Maple Boot Camp at Ohio State Mansfield on June 22-24.  Carri Jagger, Thomas deHaas, and Kathy Smith pulled this post together for the Buckeye Yard & Garden Online blog.

We cannot hold events of this quality without a lot of help and support.  A big thanks to Carri and Kathy, Mike Lynch from CDL, Mike Hogan of OSU Extension, Sayeed Mehmood, Les Ober, Mike Rechlin, Kate Fotos, and Mike Lucero.  I hope I am not forgetting anyone.  And an especially huge thanks to the Brown family at Bonhomie Acres and Stan Hess for opening up their operations for tours and interfacing with Boot Camp attendees.

Here are a sprinkling of photos to supplement what you’ll see at the linked write-up above.

Upcoming Webinar on Red Maples

Join Future Generations University’s Out of the Woods webinar series this Thursday evening at 7 PM to hear Dr. Abby van den Berg’s talk “Total Yields from Red Maple Trees.”  Red maple trees are sometimes ignored as crop trees for maple production due to several persistent beliefs, including that they produce lower yields than sugar maple trees.  This study quantified the total annual yields from red maple trees to examine this belief empirically. This talk was captured as part of the Southern Syrup Research Symposium.  Here in Ohio, we were lucky to have Abby speak in December’s Ohio Maple Days event as well on the same topic.

Register HERE

The Southern Syrup Research Symposium was made possible with support from a 2017 Acer Access project titled “Expanding the Maple Industry in West Virginia and the Central Appalachian Region through Research and Education” awarded to the West Virginia Department of Agriculture in partnership with WVU & Future Generations University.

2022 Season in Review: OSU-Mansfield Research

Just when we thought the 2021 maple season was a wild ride never to be (hopefully) repeated, 2022 did not hold back with surprises of its own.  My best way to sum it up…it felt like we were clinging to a weather yo-yo.

Pre-season was full of the normal upkeep and maintenance as well as transitioning a few production lines that had been 3/16″ over to 5/16″.

We got fully tapped less than 24 hours before the season’s first run which was good, but not quite the huge run of last year’s initial burst of activity.  The big weather event of mid-February that left deep snow over much of northern Ohio certainly played a role in keeping the ground frozen.

As the season progressed, sugar levels came up from a rather low initial level, but the big warm fronts interspersed with cold weather and few more harsh freezes created a topsy turvy season.  The ice event in late February was not a huge interruption, but it did result in some strange runs for the week following.  It did make for some great photo opps though!

Interspersed with daily sap measurements, we hosted a few outreach events to showcase the research sugarbush and were surprised at the repeated warm fronts that sped the syrup season to an early close.  Our woods were done on March 17th!

As we close down the woods and complete post-season clean up, we look forward to diving into a second year of data collected for the ACER research objectives.

Out of the Woods Webinar Series Continues

Future Generations University, one of our primary partners with the USDA ACER-funded work, continues to march along producing excellent monthly content through their webinar series “Out of the Woods.”  The next 2 months are scheduled for February 17th and March 17th.

For February, Cara Rose – from Pocahontas County’s (West Virginia) Community & Visitors Bureau – will discuss how to incorporate tourism practices into one’s maple enterprise.  You can register for the February 17th webinar here.  To stay plugged in to Future Generations’ broader swath of maple-related research and outreach, their Facebook page is a great follow.

Cara’s webinar topic looks like it will be somewhat similar to a great presentation by Rob Leeds of OSU Extension at the 2021 December Ohio Maple Days in Ashland.  There is a huge amount of information packed into Rob’s presentation slides from that day, and he updates a site for Ohio agritourism that is worth bookmarking and regularly checking for ideas of how to up the attractiveness of your maple enterprise.

MapleMAPS

The University of Southern Maine’s Center for Business and Economic Research (CBER) and the Atlantic Corporation recently released MapleMAPS, short for Maple Market Assessment and Planning System.  MapleMAPS provides access to over 20,000 survey responses from across the United States focused consumer preference data for maple syrup and other maple products.  According to the MapleMAPS website, MapleMAPS provides “tools that all maple syrup producers can easily use for business planning and forecasting based on specific market opportunities in their respective and neighboring states and regions, and will lead to benefits such as increased consumption of domestic maple syrup and increased sales and better profit margins for producers.”

Digging in a bit on this end, Ohio was nested with 4 other states – Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin – to form the East North Central region.  While we work more collaboratively with the states of Pennsylvania and West Virginia, it is important to note this distinction when examining the results.

From high level data, such as how much money the average maple customer spends annually…

…to much more specific information, such as this little nugget.  Of all the specific maple products evaluated, Ohio customers ranked maple water as LEAST available – a market opportunity perhaps?

To give you a taste of some of the other data available, here are just a few other bits of information pulled from the MapleMAPS searchable database.

Container material preference – most folks prefer glass and opaque plastic jugs were least popular from a desirability standpoint.

One more – 86% of survey respondents said they consumed at least 1 maple product during the summer, but use was relatively infrequent for most, only about once or a couple times per month.

The MapleMAPS tool is a deep well that can be explored for as long as you have time to dedicate to the database.  And I don’t believe the collaborating partners over-promise on the value of the resource – it is thorough and user friendly and certainly useful.  This is the exact sort of information that can make us all better marketers of our maple.