Participate in the USDA NASS Census

Thanks to Gary Graham of Ohio State University Extension for writing this article.  We have broken it in two parts, but both installments end the same way – with an urge to sign-up, participate, and be accounted for in the USDA NASS Census.  Last week’s first installment focused on what the USDA NASS Census accomplishes and why it is so crucial to participate.  This week, Gary emphasizes why your participation is so important and addresses common misconceptions that hold producers back from contributing.

 

Why should you report?

Would you like to make more money for your production efforts?  Do you like to obtain the latest information and research to help your production process be more efficient?  Would you like to receive assistance making you more economically competitive?  Are you interested in increasing the likelihood that your kids or the next generation will be able to continue to farm?  These and many other direct and personal questions could be asked, and they are all answered by each producer taking their responsibility seriously by reporting production volumes to NASS.  Besides being a civic duty, a federal law requires you to respond to the Census.

My neighbors do not participate because of their cultural beliefs.

We live in the greatest country on earth where we have so many freedoms and choices.  Religious freedoms are a pillar of the foundation our country is built on.  Replying to NASS’s request for information does not infringe upon one’s religious or cultural beliefs.  Participating in the Census merely gives a true accounting of the volumes and values of each commodity in our great country.  Just because you chose to not take advantage of the financial benefits or programs resulting from the Census, you are still bound by law to participate and hurting yourself by not being counted.

My operation won’t make a difference.

Actually, it does.  “Since 1975 a farm is defined as any establishment from which $1,000 or more of agricultural products were produced during a year.”  A little harsh to say but here it goes: “If you’re not a big enough commodity to be counted then you are not important enough to receive help.”  Hundreds of billions of dollars are annually distributed to states based on the information collected from the Census.  These dollars go to improve markets where your products are sold.  Promoting your commodity to consumers.  Providing research and education dollars to help bring the latest knowledge in operation efficiency assisting you in making a better living. It gives you a competitive edge over cooperate farms.  It gives the next generation help to keep agriculture growing.  So YES, it does matter when you don’t report your production.  It hurts you, it hurts other producers, and it hurts the next generation of producers.

I do not know what to do.

It’s easy.  First you need to get signed up so you can be surveyed.  NASS cannot directly visit every person producing an agricultural commodity and ask them to participate.  NASS relies on the honesty and cooperation of producers to voluntarily sign up.  Again, I can’t stress enough this will never open you up to other surveys or government agencies.

 

Before June 30, 2022, sign up for the USDA NASS Census here.  Once signed up, you will receive a Census through the mail in November 2022.  Your completed census needs returned before February 2023.  The data will be analyzed and the results reported in early 2024.

 

Commodity Producers: Your Census Participation is CRITICAL

Thanks to Gary Graham of Ohio State University Extension for writing this article.  We have broken it in two parts, but both installments end the same way – with an urge to sign-up, participate, and be accounted for in the USDA NASS Census.  This first installment will focus on what the USDA NASS Census accomplishes and why it is so crucial to participate.  Next week, Gary emphasizes why your participation is so important and addresses common misconceptions that hold producers back from contributing.

NASS Graphic Color (JPG)

“The Census of Agriculture provides the only source of uniform, comprehensive, and impartial agriculture data for every county in the nation. Through the Census of Agriculture, producers can show the nation the value and importance of agriculture and can influence decisions that will shape the future of U.S. agriculture.  Response to the Census of Agriculture is required by federal law.”

In 1790, President George Washington ordered a Census, counting 4 million Americans on farms.  In 1791 he surveyed famers within roughly a 100 to 250 mile range from the then Capital.  Those farmers surveyed were asked about crops, yields, livestock prices and taxes.  Washington proposed the National Board of Agriculture, but congress rejected it.  The 1840 population Census requested the first detailed agriculture production numbers.  Not until 1862, President Abraham Lincoln established “The People’s Department” which is todays United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).  In 1863 the Division of Statistics was established, and this would evolve into today’s National Agricultural Statistic Service (NASS).  If you did the math that is 232 years for population Census’s and 182 years that an agriculture Census has been taken, yet many people do not know about it, nor participate and fail to see the value of this important process. This year (2022) is a Census year and producers need to understand the importance of their participation in the Census of Agriculture.

Let me start with the largest myth and misconception about Census participation.  The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) will come after me and raise my taxes.  Nothing is further from the truth.  Due to the delicate nature of the data NASS collects, they have one of the strictest protocols for data protection.  NASS in bound by law (Title7, US Code, and the Confidential Information Protection and Statistical Act) to protect private information.  Meaning NASS can never release personal information to any person, organization, nor government agency.  NASS only publishes aggregated data (summarized) and never individual or farm-specific data.

Many producers attitude is that their production information is “for their eyes only” or “nothing in it for me” to participate in the Census.  Again, nothing could be further from the truth.  Not being counted and reporting production hurts every producer.  Rumors and conspiracy theories hurt as they spread lies and false accusations about big brother watching you.  Many misconceptions have been heard over the years and none are valid nor true.  What is true is not everyone participates, and it is hurting agriculture across Ohio and the whole country.

Before June 30, 2022, you need to sign up at the USDA NASS website.  Once signed up, you will receive a Census through the mail in November 2022.  Your completed census needs returned before February 2023.  The data will be analyzed and the results reported in early 2024.

Ohio 2022 Season Summary – “Better Luck Next Year”

I suppose if you had to select one word that would describe Ohio maple syrup production over the last five years it would be “change.” Traditionally, maple trees are tapped on Presidents Day and the season runs until April. In the last five years, producers have been tapping trees earlier and earlier. In some cases in northeast Ohio, the last week of January. In more southerly portions of Ohio, many are tapping even earlier than that. In some years, producers have boiled a large percentage of their syrup in February. In many years – this year being no exception – by the time the Geauga County Maple Festival arrives, the actual maple season is a distant memory.  Seasons like 2020 will be remembered for excellent production. 2021 was dismal and forgettable for most. 2022 is a more difficult year to generalize.  A “one size fits all” label and commentary would be oversimplifying the season.

The first reports that reached my desk were that the 2022 season in Ohio was a bust. A half crop at best and for some that was true. For others, that was not the case. It all came down to location and timing. In parts of the state where you would expect a poor crop in a bad year, a full crop was produced. In more traditional areas of the Buckeye State, the result was less than favorable. Again, it all depended on the specific location of the sugarbush, when trees were tapped, and when the season stalled to a stop.

In Ohio, the 2022 season turned back the clock to a more traditional start. After a very cold and snowy February, the majority of the producers tapped within a week of President’s Day. The 2022 season was also a very intense season. The majority of the syrup was made over a short window between March 1st and St. Patrick’s Day. Heavy snows in February and heavier rain the first part of March resulted in an abundance of moisture in the woods. Two things happen when you have excessive amounts of precipitation. It translates into large volumes of sap, but it can simultaneously lower the sugar content within the sap. In 2022, that certainly was the case. A 60 to 1 sap to syrup ratio was not uncommon.

In the sugarhouse, producers reported that the niter had an uncharacteristic red cast that was hard to filter. For the majority of Ohio sugarmakers, the season ended on March 17th – St. Patrick’s Day. A few of the more adventuresome producers hung in until the last major freeze of the season on March 25th but the payoff was negligible. 2022 will be remembered as a continuation of the La Nina weather patterns experienced in 2021. Even with a more traditional start date, the season was again short with few big runs and low sap sugar. If you were lucky, you had an average year at best; however, most will chalk up 2022 as a 2nd consecutive disappointing season.

Mainline in Ohio State Mansfield Sugarbush

Better luck next year?!

Ohio Sugarbush Highlighted by NRCS – New VIDEO

As you brush the dirt off your knees and shake the cobwebs from your head (what a crazy syrup season!), here is a new video featuring one of our state’s own maple producers – Bill & Dee Belew of Messenger Century Farm in Chagrin Falls, OH.  You’ll remember that we have highlighted the EQIP (Environmental Quality Incentives Program) and other NRCS programs (such as the Conservation Stewardship Partners program) as excellent opportunities for maple producers to improve their woods AND their operations.  This video is a marvelous example of just that.

A special thanks to Brooke DeCubellis who produced the video.  Brooke DeCubellis serves as the Natural Resources Conservation Services (NRCS) public affairs specialist in Ohio.  In this capacity, she creates and leverages communication strategies and products supporting NRCS objectives throughout the state.  She maintains effective working relationships with regional partners, highlights local producer conservation efforts and shares technical and financial resources to further natural resource stewardship within the state.  Brooke is a skilled communications professional, with more than ten years of experience in federal and state government work, specializing in media relations, public engagement, photography and videography.  Thanks Brooke for shining a light on a fine example of what Ohio sugaring is all about!

How to Combat Buddy & Sour Sap – The Path to QUALITY Syrup (Part 4)

Prevention of sour sap is all about sanitation. Here are a few things to consider when developing a sanitation plan for your maple operation. As soon as the previous season ends, producers using tubing need to clean and sanitize their lines. There are many ways to do this, but the most important thing is to make sure it gets done. As the new season approaches, inspect your lines for sanitation problems, consider replacing not only the spouts but the drops and tees if needed. As the new season begins, producers using high vacuum should consider running your vacuum 24/7 to keep your lines clean, clear, and cool.  During the season, make sure you wash your holding tanks often to prevent microbial scum buildup.

Where sap is held for a long period of time, avoid using plastic tanks for long term sap storage. Plastic is porous and retains bacterial inoculum that will quickly generate bacterial growth. These plastic tanks are often referred to as commercializers, named after the old commercial grade of syrup that nobody wanted. Once a plastic tank becomes contaminated, they are almost impossible to clean and should be replaced.

In the sugarhouse, making quality maple syrup starts with your reverse osmosis (RO) unit. Concentrate must be evaporated as soon as it comes off the RO. Bacteria multiply quickly in concentrated sap. This is the result of a higher percentage of sugar in the concentrate. There is also an increase in the sap temperature as it moves through the RO. It may enter the RO at 40 degrees F or less, but when it comes out, it will be closer to 50 degrees F. High Brix concentrate, elevated sap temperatures, and a warm sugarhouse are the perfect recipe for taking good sap and turning it into a microbial cesspool if not careful. This is one of the reasons many producers are now considering using refrigerated milk bulk tanks to store concentrate. This cools the concentrate and allows more time to manage the boiling process.

Producers often accept the fact that concentrate left on the evaporator overnight will produce a darker grade syrup, at least until fresh sap is introduced.  This does not have to happen if managed properly.  Small evaporators should be drained if possible. Larger evaporators can be equipped with a wash system that allow the entire evaporator to be cleaned and drained. Once the syrup leaves the evaporator, the process of sanitation continues. Syrup should be filtered and placed in a stainless-steel drum after being reheated to at least 180 degrees F. There is an inherent risk when you attempt to drum syrup at lower temperatures. Spoilage happens when barrels are packed at low temperatures. The hot syrup and cold barrel causes condensation (H2O) which combines with the remaining air in the barrel ultimately resulting in mold and fermentation.  It is best practice to place filled barrels in a cool place like a basement or a barn that does not heat up. Another practice worth looking into, is to build a cool room by equipping  a small insulated room with an air conditioner.

When you re-open a barrel of syrup, you should have syrup that is ready to bottle. When you bottle your syrup bring the syrup back up to 185 degrees for packing. Syrup packed below 185 F is subject to spoilage and reduced shelf life. Going above 190 also creates several problems. And if the syrup peaks above 200 F, the syrup will start to foam, and niter will start precipitate. The only solution for this scenario is to filter the syrup again. You will also overheat your jugs causing them to contract and suck in if they are not 100% filled. Plastic jugs should always be filled within a half inch of the top and laid on their side to kill any bacterial that may have found its way in the jug.  If you pack in glass bottles, make sure you put your bottles in the oven at 200 degrees for a few minutes. Hot glass will not condensate moisture and you can eliminate most problems with this simple step. It is always good to pack several times over the course of the year to maintain the highest quality in your syrup.

Many years ago, there was a use for commercial outlet for sub-standard syrup. The majority was sold to the tobacco industry. It was used to sweeten chewing tobacco. That outlet for the most part no longer exists. There are places where substandard syrup could be used but its objectionable flavor drastically lowers its value. For this reason, there is now a movement to prevent this type of syrup from getting into the market. Bulk buyers no longer want to handle sub-standard syrup and if they buy it they are not going to pay very much for the product. In addition, there is a currently an effort by the International Maple Syrup Institute and others to promote educational programing to raise producer awareness about ways to avoid producing this kind of syrup. The reality is that there is very little economic return from sub-standard syrup production. With rising costs of equipment and inputs the production of anything less than top quality saleable syrup in today’s high demand market is foolish.

There you have it – a 4-part series starting with a lesson on phenology and how to track growing degree days, relating growing degree days to tree bud development, appreciating the differences between buddy sap and sour sap, taking sanitation seriously at every single phase, and PRESTO! viola! alakazam (if only it were that easy!!) – you are making QUALITY maple syrup!

Off-Tasting Syrup: Understanding the Culprits (Part 3)

Now that we have talked about tree phenology and maple buds and growing degree days, let’s the talk more about the main prize of every sugarmaker’s dream – QUALITY syrup!  As we get ready to embark on a new maple season, let’s go over some of the things that will help you to improve the quality of your syrup in 2022. We all know that paying attention to detail in the woods will pay off with big rewards; however, the place where paying attention to detail is most important is when the sap or concentrate is on the evaporator. The finishing process can make or break your operation. Maple production is becoming a very competitive business, and the producers making the highest quality syrup will rise to the top.

Here is an oversimplification of what happens during the syrup-making process.  Once bacteria are introduced into the sap, a conversion of sugars takes place. A portion of the maple sap, which is almost 100 percent sucrose, is converted into glucose and fructose. This portion of the sugar content makes up the invert sugars present in syrup. When the sap is heated (The Maillard Reaction – something you can read more about here) the color of the syrup and the flavor of the syrup is formed, largely based on the amount of glucose and fructose sugars and other factors happening at the same time.  Thus, the level of microbial interaction plays a vital role in determining the color, grade, and corresponding flavor profile of the syrup produced. So, as you can see not all microbes are bad, in fact they are essential to everything we love about maple syrup!

Sap flowing from the maple tree is sterile, so where do the microbes come from?

Microbial activity begins as soon as sap is exposed to the outside environment. Early in the season microbial development is slow due to the normally cold temperatures, but once warm weather arrives (above 50 degrees F), more and other strains of microbes begin to multiply in the sap. As the microbes interact with the sap, the syrup produced darkens and develops an increasingly bold and pronounced maple flavor. Microbe colonies continue to expand eventually resulting in very dark and viscous syrup with an unpalatable strong flavor. Because this degradation of the sap is more likely to occur at the end of the season, low quality syrup is often associated with tree budding which happens at approximately the same time.

If you did a taste comparison, you would notice is a definite difference between buddy syrup and sour sap syrup. Buddy syrup has a chocolate flavor akin to what a Tootsie Roll tastes like while sour sap syrup has a bitter sometimes fermented taste that stays in your mouth. If you boil buddy sap, it will produce a pungent unforgettable smell. Sour Sap thickens to the point where it cannot be evaporated and will be difficult to draw off the evaporator. In extreme cases, you can pour a stream out and it will suspend in midair. This is referred to as “ropey syrup”. Sour sap is a result of intense microbial activity that builds anytime during the season when environmental conditions are right for bacterial growth. Buddy syrup comes from sap collected when the buds emerge naturally from the tree. This is a normal physiological growth stage that occurs every year.

Both processes require and progress with seasonal warming. In a normal season, the two tend to occur simultaneously and accelerate at the end of the season. Though the two are correlated, it is important for producers to understand the differences if you want to avoid the problems associated with each.

 

New Article Series Launches Next Monday

This short post will serve as a sort of guidepost, a table of contents or roadmap if you will, for the next month or so worth of content.  We are excited to bring you a 4-article series on maple phenology.  Phenology is a fancy word for describing nature’s calendar.  We’ll discuss one of the most practical and accessible tools for tracking phenology – the growing degree day, or GDD for short.  Second, we’ll seek to understand and document how GDD is related to species-specific patterns in maple bud and bloom timing and why that matters for maple producers.  Then over the course of two installations, Les Ober will break down why an improvement of one’s understanding of maple season timing is particularly important towards the season’s end and how you can minimize and prevent unwanted bouts with “sour” or “buddy” sap.  After all, our main goal is promoting sustainable production of high quality maple syrup!

2022 Maple Season Forecast from a Climate Expert

Please join us at 7:00 PM, Thursday January 13th to learn from OSU Extension’s Aaron Wilson about how weather, climate, and maples interrelate.  His talk has immediate implications for this current year’s sap run and a long ways into the future.  Those of you that have heard Aaron speak before know that it is a real treat to learn from his expertise.  Register here at the Woodland Stewards website.

Dr. Aaron Wilson is an Atmospheric Research Scientist with the Byrd Polar and Climate Research Center and Climate Specialist with a joint appointment in OSU Extension.  He will shed some light on how the coming maple season may turn out.  Dr. Wilson’s presentation will include the 2022 short-term forecast as well as how our changing climate may alter maple production in the future.  Future climate projections pose significant challenges to the future of maple production across southern maple producing zones.  Planning for the future and considering how best to meet those challenges is crucial for sustained maple production in the long-term.

Synopsis:  From increasing winter and spring temperatures to extreme weather events, climate change poses a risk to the maple syrup production community. These changes alter short-term conditions like quality and quantity of sap, while long-term changes in climate are having impacts on the health of trees, roots, and shifting areas where production is viable. Projections of future climate pose significant challenges to the future of maple production across southern zones. How might the community plan for and mitigate these impacts? Join us as we explore the influence of weather and climate change on the maple industry and discuss the implications for the future.

Register TODAY!

Maple Assistance Opportunity through EQIP

The Environmental Quality Incentive Program, EQIP for short, provides financial and technical assistance to agricultural producers and woodland managers to combat environmental concerns and provide natural resources benefits.  Maple Producers should be excited to know that several maple practices are now eligible under EQIP.

How does EQIP work in the first place?

EQIP is a voluntary program, and contracts are available for a single year ranging up to a full decade.  The list of EQIP practices is long.  If you can imagine an environmental issue facing a farmer or woodland owner, you can safely bet there is an EQIP practice (or 3!) to meet that need.  Successful applicants to receive EQIP assistance paid at either a 75% or 90% rate to implement the recommended activity on their property.  Historically Underserved applicants, which includes Beginning Farmers, Limited Resource Farmers, Socially Disadvantaged Farmers, and Veteran Farmers, can tap into the higher 90% rate.

How does maple fit in to EQIP?

There is no set-aside pot of money allocated only for maple producers.  To improve your chances to get maple-related assistance, you should couple forestry- or wildlife-related practices.  Think tree or shrub plantings, managing grapevines or invasive species, or improving your woods through a Timber Stand Improvement (TSI) cut for just a few examples.  If you are a farmer, there are plenty of other practices to consider as well.  The more comprehensive and realistic your application to EQIP is, the better your odds of being a successful awardee.

So what are the maple-specific EQIP practices?  There are functionally 2 practices – reverse osmosis and sap preheaters that fall under Practice Code 374 – Energy Efficient Agricultural Operation.  Once you break up the size of sap preheaters into small/large and bracket RO units as small/medium/large capacity, the number of specific items actually grows to 5.  The 2 graphics below will explain more of the cost rate assistance details.

When/how do I apply?

The very first step is to determine if you are eligible to apply, and the initial process starts with establishing records with the Farm Service Agency.  Once eligibility is determined, you can proceed with your application.  All the applications are ranked against one another for funding priority.  In other words, EQIP ranks applications to ensure their dollars are going as far and as efficiently as they possibly can.

When to apply is just as important as How to apply.  The next batch of EQIP applications will be finalized and ranked on January 14th for the Fiscal Year 2022.  Though applications can be submitted year-round, any application received after mid-January will be considered in the 2023 batch of applications.

Who can help me apply?

You should contact your local NRCS service center and get in touch with the ODNR Service Forester covering your territory.

When will I find out if I got EQIP assistance?

It’s hard to know an exact date; however, once when successful applicants are notified, the final step is to sign contract documents once they are ready.

 

Don’t be discouraged if you miss the January 14th deadline, you can always be working on your application for the next Fiscal Cycle.  While there is no guarantee that maple producers will be so well-positioned to benefit from EQIP in coming years, EQIP is a wonderful program that can benefit your maple operation but in much broader ways as well.

Author: Gabe Karns
Special thanks to Gary Graham for forwarding information about the Practice Code 374 eligibility.

December Ohio Maple Days & Grading Workshop

Don’t forget to register for the Ohio Maple Days meeting scheduled for December 11 in Ashland.  We have a limited number of seats, so don’t delay too much in getting in those registrations.

We are also excited to host a syrup grading workshop on Friday, December 10th.  Please consider making a couple days of it to participate in both the workshop and the main event on Saturday.  Registration for the syrup grading workshop is on the Woodland Stewards website.

See you there!