Out of the Woods Webinar UPCOMING

The Out of the Woods webinar series continues this Thursday night, July 20th at 7 PM out of our partner Future Generations University.  The Appalachian Forest National Heritage Area (AFNHA) is featuring on this month’s event and will have agroforestry experts speaking to the life of a forest and the benefits these different living organisms bring to the ecosystem.  It might not be as maple-focused as it usually is, but the focus on holistic forest integrity should be integral to any maple producer’s mindset.

The AFNHA “conserves, interprets and promotes forest heritage to enhance landscapes and communities” throughout regions of Appalachia.  Though their focal area are specific counties of Maryland and West Virginia, there is much to be learned from their unique approach to asset-based tourism and community development in heavily forested landscapes.  Here is a beautifully done webpage within their site that walks through the seasonality of different forest edible plants and derivatives.

Register Here Now.

Upcoming Maple Workshop – June 15th!

Come join us on June 15th at Holden Arboretum’s Working Woods for the maple workshop – “Woodland Owners & Maple Production: Is It an Income Opportunity for You?”

Offered through Ohio State’s Woodland Steward program, we are excited to introduce woodland owners to the ins and outs of maple syrup production.  Is your woods suitable?  How involved do you want to be?  How much are you willing to invest into such an endeavor?  We will start inside and finish outside looking at equipment options and how to set-up a woods for maple production.  The class fee is $40 and includes lunch & materials.  Please consider joining us and REGISTER here.

March Maple Programming Recap

Because the weather put us out of the syrup-making business by March 1st this year, we delivered a crowded schedule of March maple programming at a variety of events instead.

Kicking off the month, Kathy Smith and I tag-teamed a talk at the Woodland, Water, and Wildlife (WWW) Conference.  We spoke to a roomful of attendees about the maple toolbox that has emerged from our tri-state USDA ACER grant.  The maple toolbox is designed for foresters and natural resource professionals to bring maple sugaring to landowners as a management option.  From site and tree evaluation to a crash course in regulatory requirements for maple producers, the toolbox is gaining traction as an excellent resource across its intended Ohio, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania reach.  The 1-hour presentation at WWW teed up a full-day workshop dedicated to just the maple toolbox for middle of the month.

2 weeks later, I spoke to a group of 30 undergraduate students from the Buckeye Learning Community at OSU-Mansfield.  While students filled up their plates with pancakes covered in Ohio State maple syrup, we discussed the concepts of stewardship and sustainability in balancing the need for natural resources while protecting our environment.  Maple is absolutely a perfect candidate topic to explore these themes.  Once bellies were full, we went outside to get students some experience identifying maple trees in the woods.  With a handful of maples identified just outside the building, everyone got some tapping practice while we collected some sap to check Brix with our digital refractometers.  The sap sugar content exercise worked beautifully as a suppressed maple struggling to get out of the midstory posted a 1.4 Brix and was blown out of the water by the most dominant sugar maple in the stand – the maple monarch put up a stellar 3.4% sugar content.  It was eye-opening for many students to see the connection between a healthy forest and production potential as measured by Brix.

March 15th was a full day in-service workshop for 20 professionals.  The deep dive into the maple toolbox coupled an indoor morning session with an outdoor afternoon session.  Consulting foresters, extension educators, agents from local Soil and Water Conservation Districts, and more participated.  A big thanks to Les Ober and Carri Jagger for helping us teach that workshop.  While we talked about the in’s and out’s of how to make maple syrup, the workshop focused mostly on evaluating sites for feasibility and production potential and focusing on tree/forest health through the lens of sugarbush management.

Finally, a tandem of Saturday presentations at the Ohio River Valley Woodland & Wildlife Workshop focused on introducing landowners to sugarbush planning and maple economics.  I shared a presentation entitled “Maybe Maple? A Beginner’s Guide to Planning a Sugarbush” that was followed by a remote presentation from Dr. Sayeed Mehmood dedicated to the dollars and cents side of maple operations.  It is exciting to the southern tier excitement of maple spread, and engaging with an audience that welcomed attendees from Kentucky and Indiana to Loveland, Ohio, was a great opportunity to spread the good word of maple.

 

3 Paths to Increasing Profitability

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.  To wrap up the day, we had a trio of talks approach the goal of increasing profitability from 3 different perspectives.  A big thanks to Mike Rechlin, Les Ober, Mark Cannella, Carri Jagger, and Rachel Coy for finishing off our Maple Days program on a high note!  Be sure to mark your calendars for next year’s conference December 8th and 9th!

The first talk, led by Carri and Rachel, explored how to increase profitability by focusing on maple products.  What is the breakdown of selling maple syrup in smaller and smaller volume units?  What value-added products have the highest margins?  Are there alternative maple products that you have never even heard of before?  Detailed breakdown after detailed breakdown, producers could see their input costs and “shrink” as well as returns across various value-added maple products, from maple cream and maple candy to sugar and cotton candy.  Beyond the typical suite of value-added products, the talk also provided a quick overview of just how creative one can get using maple as an ingredient in products ranging from lip balm and hand lotion to marinades and sap seltzers.  The over-arching takeaway: it might be more work to create value-added maple products or sell your syrup in smaller units, but the reward is likely increased profits.

Mark Cannella took the second perspective in a totally different direction.  If your personal operation is stuck at a ceiling of 500 taps and you cannot expand staying on your own property, consider leasing maple taps or purchasing maple sap to increase your overall profitability.  The basis of Mark’s presentation can be explored more fully at Maple Manager in the form of sap pricing calculators, leasing guides, and lots more.  Exploring how sap leveraged from elsewhere can achieve economy of scale to justify a big equipment purchase or simply grow the volume of syrup for your market, leasing must be considered.  Another provocative idea Mark raised was that of multi-owner partnerships.  In other words, what would it look like for you to merge aspects of your maple operation with other local maple producers.  In the woods or in the sugarhouse, the possibilities for crafting a creative business structure is limited only by the imagination.  Staying true to best practices, legal agreements, and thorough cost-benefit analyses BEFORE diving in is always the key!

Finally, Mike and Les brought it all back home and put the emphasis where it ultimately must begin – maximizing the efficiency and profitability of the woods you manage.  After all, it is a common axiom that the sugarhouse is the place you spend your money, but the woods is where you make it!  Their talk leveraged Future Generations University’s work via an ACER grant dedicated to production and profitability.  To model best practices and engage producers at the unit of an individual and unique operation, researchers have been engaged in consultations that seek to identify room for improvement, equip producers to improve and enhance their operation, and then follow up to track progress.  While the talk could easily be the outline for an entire textbook or a week-long workshop on maple sugaring, it is sometimes good to step back from the details and look down from the bird’s eye view for some much needed perspective.

Regardless of a producer’s scale or experience, there was something for everybody in the 3-part profitability module to close our 2022 Ohio Maple Days event.  We look forward to seeing you next December 8th and 9th but hope to cross paths with you before then!

Borers, Feeders, and Galls Oh My!

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. Dr. Curtis Young, Entomologist, Extension Educator, and Associate Professor, expanded our knowledge regarding maple pests.  Many that most of us were already aware of, spotted lanternfly or Asian long-horned beetle for instance, and lots of lesser known pests.  Before we get into a few highlights, be sure to mark your calendars for next year’s conference December 8th and 9th!

Any attempt to summarize Dr. Young’s talk would fail due to the sheer amount of information that he is able to share in such a short amount of time.  And no notes!  Truly a wealth of knowledge.  Rather than attempt a synopsis, this is a great opportunity to share some general resources and up-to-date information for some of the more alarming maple pests we face here in Ohio.

University of Kentucky Extension has a great webpage that quickly catalogs a wide range of known pests across 4 general categories – leaf feeders, sap feeders, borers, and galls.  While most maple pests are just that – pests, similar to how most of us view the average mosquito, a few present a real and present danger.  That said, if your maple trees are stressed already, a relatively harmless pest can be the proverbial straw that breaks a camel’s back.  Moral of that last sentence, practice healthy silviculture and sugarbush management to ensure your trees are healthy and vigorous.

Asian long-horned beetle are always mentioned in these presentations.  Thankfully, in Ohio at least, control and eradication of Asian long-horned beetle is a success story that we seldom get to herald in the fight against invasive species.  While we keep our eyes out for future infestations, spotted lanternfly has rapidly expanded its range and our state records now show several counties with positive detections.

An excellent website to stay abreast of issues facing plant, shrub, and tree health is Buckeye Yard & Garden onLine where Dr. Curtis Young and many other experts from Ohio State University Extension provide “timely information about Ohio growing conditions, pest, disease, and cultural problems.”

More Upcoming Maple Events

We’re tapped and the production system is flushed and tight with great vacuum.  Many thanks to our students and technicians for getting the 2023 sap season underway!

Join the OSU Extension team on March 1st for the annual Woodland, Water, and Wildlife Conference.  Kathy Smith and Gabe Karns will be presenting a seminar early in the agenda titled “Woodland Owners, Maple Syrup, and the New Maple Toolbox.”  Book your whole day with us though as many other interesting topics will be covered including buckeye tree conservation, aquatic plants and wetlands, Ohio snakes, spotted lanternfly updates, urban coyotes, and more.

If you are a consulting forester, work with a natural resource agency, or are otherwise employed within the environmental and natural resource career field, please join us on March 15th for an in-service workshop customized for you!  Learn how to assess a woodlands potential, what equipment will be needed, what options are available to a landowner interested in maple sugaring, and what else is needed to establish an operation as an income opportunity.

Upcoming Webinars – Weather & Worms

Two webinars are coming quickly on the calendar.  And yes, you read the post’s title correctly…

First, a perennial favorite speaker is coming to Future Generations University “Out of the Woods” seminar series next Thursday, January 19th.  None other than Aaron Wilson from Ohio State’s Byrd Polar and Climate Research Center will be discussing the weather and how it impacts your sugarbush.  If this talk is anything like usual, he delivers excellent information about general effects and then dials it in to the prognostications that seem to be developing for the current and upcoming sap season.  Click here to register – next Thursday night at 7 PM. 

And second – Wednesday, January 25th at 3:00 PM, Penn State Extension will be offering a webinar called “Stressors of Maple: Dieback and Mortality.”  The webinar will be recorded and sent to everyone that is registered.  The webinar will host speakers from Michigan Technological University and will cover what maple decline is, what is driving maple decline, how earthworms impact maples and native forests, and how to respond if you have maple decline.  For more information and to register for this January 25th webinar, click here.

Reverse Osmosis 101+

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.  Joel Oelke, Regional Sales Manager with Leader Evaporator/H2O Innovation, shared an encyclopedic wealth of knowledge regarding reverse osmosis leading up to the lunch hour.  Before we get into a few highlights, be sure to mark your calendars for next year’s conference December 8th and 9th!

At its simplest, reverse osmosis is a process by which sap is passed through a membrane to remove water thereby concentrating sugar.  The pure water pulled out of the sap is referred to as permeate.  The increasingly sugary solution – concentrate.  The benefits are obvious – it saves space on numerous fronts and greatly improves efficiency at the evaporator by reducing time, fuel, and labor.  While the list of pros is long, suffice it to say – reverse osmosis is one of the biggest technological revolutions the maple industry has experienced in the last 100 years.

While reverse osmosis is a true game changer for maple producers, the technology is also one of the most complex and expensive pieces of equipment in the sugarhouse.  It is easy to become intimidated by what’s necessary to implement and maintain a unit, and mistakes chalked up to the “school of hard knocks” can be expensive.  Here are just 5 rules of thumb that I pulled from Joel’s presentation to share in this article.

#1 – RO’s efficiency rating (how many gallons can a unit process per hour) is given at a solution temperature of 55 degrees Fahrenheit.  Because sap is kept at cooler temperatures to ensure syrup quality, you need to factor the lower temperature into your unit’s efficiency rating.  This is especially important to consider if you are shopping for a new RO unit.  Here’s a simple figure to calibrate your RO’s operating efficiency.  If you purchase a unit rated at 600 gallons per hour but expect to run sap at an average temperature of 40 F, you can multiply 600 by an efficiency downgrade of 0.75 (or 75%) and expect a 450 gallon per hour operating rate.

#2 – A second factor influencing RO efficiency is the concentrate level you are trying to achieve assuming you start around 2 Brix.  The more you want to concentrate your sap, the less efficient your unit will be.  Let’s continue with the example we started above in italics.  If you want to take 2% sap to 8% concentrate, your RO unit will run at the temperature-corrected peak of efficiency and achieve your calibrated 450 gallons per hour rate.  However, if you concentrated to something higher, say a 12% level, your operation would get dinged with an additional 30% loss in efficiency.  Here’s what the math would reveal – 450 gallons per hour multiplied by 0.70 = 315 gallons per hour.  Below is another figure to help you calculate the efficiency factor of concentration.  Remember, you must factor in both penalties – sap temperature and concentrate level – to properly estimate your efficiency rating.  And this all assumes you are running a clean, properly-maintained RO unit!

#3 – The desugaring, rinsing, and washing cycles are what keep your expensive reverse osmosis investment operating at the peak of performance.  Long story short – each cycle is critical to maintaining your unit.  And do not – especially in the wash cycle – generalize across all RO units.  Specific models and manufacturers use different membranes which are tailored to different types of soaps and chemicals as well as amounts of each.  Consulting the manuals and consulting with your RO manufacturer reps – just like Joel – is best practice for getting maximum life and performance out of your reverse osmosis technology.

#4 – Don’t let your improved efficiency get you in to trouble.  What I mean is this – sap that goes through a reverse osmosis unit comes out as warmer concentrate.  So, A) the process of reverse osmosis physically warms the concentrate above the temperature that it went in the machine, and B) you aren’t concentrating just sugar with an RO unit, you are concentrating everything – including microbes and bacteria.  The warmer concentrate coupled with a denser community of “nasties” can get a producer in big trouble if the evaporator is not synced up in work flow and their facility can not properly keep concentrate cool.  Stopping short of laying out any specific recommendations for how to integrate and streamline your sugarhouse sap-to-syrup processing, just know that the clock is ticking extra fast once you start concentrating sap.

#5 – If you properly size, run, and maintain an reverse osmosis unit, you can expect roughly a 3-year payback on your purchase when accounting for saved fuel and labor.  A rough cost estimator predicted a $4 cost savings per finished gallon of syrup using fuel oil in a 110 gallon per hour evaporator.  Obviously there a lot of moving parts for each unique scenario, but the bottom line is this asset does not 10 years to recoup costs.

Hopefully these quick 5 points help you make sense of reverse osmosis and how you might consider incorporating or upgrading an RO unit in your sugaring operation.  Thanks for an extremely informative talk Joel!

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 NAMSC Webinars

Thinking of adding value-added pure maple products to your operation?  Looking to improve your current candy and cream skills?  Merle Maple confections expert Eileen Downs will demonstrate the processes used to make award-winning candy and cream, from start to finish.  Join this North American Maple Syrup Council webinar on Monday, December 12th at 7 PM.  Register here.

The second opportunity is offered twice.  Once at 7 PM on December 14th and again on December 17th at noon.  In these sessions, the lead researcher (Geoff Lewis from the University of Michigan) will describe this maple syrup life cycle inventory project and go over the data they’re looking to collect from producers and processors this coming spring.  These data will also be used to build an online calculator for any producer to estimate their own greenhouse gas emissions and receive suggested strategies to reduce these emissions.  There will be plenty of time to answer questions about the project and participate.  Registration information is here.