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

Ohio Maple Days 2021 Presentations AVAILABLE

Despite being virtual due to COVID-19, 2021 Ohio Maple Days – or more accurately Ohio Maple Day sans the “s” – was a success.  The audience, two hundred or so strong, heard presentations on tapping and updates from our ACER grants in addition to how production might be increased with red maple.  A big thanks to this year’s speakers and an extra round of applause for the committee who worked hard on an event that looked quite a bit different than in years past.  One silver lining to having a virtual event is that the sessions are easily recorded.

Visit the Ohio Woodland Stewards Maple page and scroll to the bottom of that webpage to access the different presentations.  Let us know what you think and send us any questions, comments, concerns, or suggestions to talk topics for next year!

From Tree to Table: Webinar for the Maple Curious

Join OSU’s Les Ober, Geauga Co. Extension, and SENR’s Gabe Karns and Kathy Smith, for this session on how to make your own syrup or explore turning your woods into a sugarbush as an income opportunity. We will talk some history, tree species to tap, how to tap and how to boil and bottle maple sap. Have a few trees in the yard or a woods that has potential? We will try to answer all your questions.

The FREE webinar will be March 12 from 10 AM-noon.  Registration link here!

Also don’t forget this weekend is the first of 2 for the Ohio Maple Madness Spring Driving TourClick here for more information.

2021 Ohio Maple Madness Spring Tour

Get ready for the Ohio Maple Madness Spring Tour that starts the Saturday and Sunday of March 6th and 7th and spills over to the next week, March 13-14 as well.  Inside the Spring Tour guide is a list of producers who look forward to hosting you during this year’s tour.

Get Ready!! 2021 Ohio Maple Madness Spring Tour

The Ohio Maple Madness Spring Tour is scheduled for March 6th & 7th and March 13th & 14th.  The bookended Saturdays / Sundays event will be similar to the fall tour.  Whatever COVID-19 protocols are issued by our governor at that time will be in place for the Spring Tour.

Anyone interested in joining the 2021 Ohio Maple Madness tour should reach out to Fred or Jen at Richards Maple ASAP.  Fred’s email is fred@richardsmapleproducts.com and Jen’s is jen@richardsmapleproducts.com.  You can also call Fred Ahrens 330-206-1606 to get more information and lock in your spot on the tour.

More information will be going out to OMPA members and the event will be advertised across an array of websites and social media outlets.  The deadline to be listed in the printed advertisements has already passed, but there is still time to join the Tour and be listed in digital ads.  The fee is $90 per stop.  The cost includes OMPA membership/benefits for a year, covers IMSI/NAMSC dues for a year, and makes sure your maple operation is a part of this year’s 2021 Maple Madness Tour!

If know that you want to participate in this spring’s Maple Madness tour, reach out ASAP to Fred or Jen and have your bio, open hours, address, and any new maple recipes ready to send to the following address:

Ohio Maple Madness Tour
545 Water Street
Chardon, OH 44024

Ohio State Maple Syrup AVAILABLE

Maple syrup from The Ohio State University-Mansfield campus is available for purchase.  Produced from sap of the research and demonstration sugarbush, the maple syrup is bottled in 1/2 pint (glass bottles), pint, quart, and half gallon containers (rest are jugs).  As an extra bonus, the 2020 run of syrup, which is currently available, carries the 150th sesquicentennial logo for OSU’s important anniversary.

Importantly, OSU syrup sale proceeds contribute to maintenance of the sugarbush, seed money for research, funding maple-related student internships and research opportunities, and more.  To place an order, visit Ohio State’s Woodland Stewards website.  We can ship syrup to your door or you can request a pick-up in Columbus or in Mansfield.

For those already shopping for holiday gifts, a case of 20, 1/2 pint glass bottles is available at a good discount.  Email karns.36@osu.edu for discount details.

Click on the Mansfield Maple tab for more information about the sugarbush at OSU-Mansfield!

The 2020 Ohio Maple Syrup Production Report

Ohio producers enjoyed an almost “normal” season with the exception that everything happened a month early. This year’s long-term winter weather forecast was predicted to be a long, cold, and snowy winter. In the Northeast, that pattern prevailed due to a shift in the jet stream, but Ohio, West Virginia, Indiana, and parts of Pennsylvania were left with a rather mild winter. For the producers who were ready, conditions opened the door for some very good early maple syrup production in February. But the month of March saw an early warming trend that quickly brought the maple syrup season to an early conclusion across the region. Production across the state was all but shutdown by Saint Patrick’s Day. Looking at my records over the last several decades, Saint Patty’s day is circled in red because of the excellent runs occurring on or near that date – not this year. After several years where late tapping resulted in poor seasons, I feel that more producers across the Southern Tier of maple-producing states have learned to adjust their tapping to the weather and not the calendar. Thankfully, many sugarmakers I have talked with tapped at the right time in 2020 and had a very good to excellent season’s production.

Examples of this excellent production can be found across the state of Ohio. James Miller at Sugar Valley Farm set 3200 taps in January and over the 4th and 5th of February he collected over 14,000 gallons of sap. He set a personal best of 332 gallons of syrup. This pattern continued until the first week of March when the flow of sap stopped. Hit with an abnormally dry and warm period that lasted the rest of March, most trees dried up within a week. With the early start and despite the early shutdown, James ended the season with over a half gallon of syrup per tap. This was also the case for his neighbor The Gingerich Family. OMPA President Karl Evens reported a normal crop despite low sap sugar content. Down state producers reported excellent maple producing weather in the month of February. In Central Ohio’s Knox County, the Brown Family at Bonhomie Acres reported a near record crop. Further to the south in Mount Vernon, the Butcher Family set new production records after several years with below average production. Reports coming out of the southern parts of the state report excellent production, color, and flavor. A large percentage of the syrup made from south to north graded Golden and Amber. The flavor of first boils was superb, and low sap sugar content (between 1.3 and 1.6%) did not hamper production like it did back in 2018.

What can we learn from the 2020 season? First and foremost, weather forecasting is an exact science with a lot of room for error. The 2019-20 winter forecast for Ohio was about as far off as you can get; however, for many parts of the Northeast predictions were spot on. Probably the single most valuable tool a producer has to work with is experience. After years of experience making syrup, you just develop a feeling, almost a sixth sense when it is time to tap. The worst thing you can do is to second guess yourself. Wait too long and you can miss crucial runs. Tap too early and you may be headed for an early shutdown with a lot of season left. For sure, once you tapped there is no turning back and you must make the best of it. From that point to the end of the season, how you utilize modern maple technology will determine your level of success. Technology has become the great equalizer when it comes to maple syrup production in the 21st century.

Just as the maple syrup season was ending, COVID-19 cast an ominous shadow across the Buckeye State and the rest of the nation with huge disruptions to the economy. Agricultural sales, and certainly maple, were not immune. Many of the traditional points of sale, such as retail establishments, festivals, and farmers markets, were closed until further notice. Even though maple syrup was disappearing from the shelves of large grocery stores, giving the false appearance of a maple syrup shortage, nothing could be further from the truth. For small to medium size producers, it is a major challenge – near impossible in many cases – to tap into the mega supply chains. Many producers are worried that there will not be a market for their 2020 syrup crop. Hopefully as summer approaches, health regulations will be relaxed and maple producers will once again be able to market their products in traditional venues. Until then stay safe.

Author: Les Ober, Geauga County OSU Extension

2018 Annual Maple Production Results: NASS Survey

2018 was better than the abysmal years of 2016 and 2017, and Ohio production was reported (USDA NASS survey) at 90,000 gallons – good enough for the 8th best state in the nation. Let’s take a deeper dive into the report and see what else we can learn.

In both 2016 (70,000 gallons) and 2017 (80,000), warm short seasons plagued Ohio. Most producers I talked to did not have a great year in 2018, but they at least were more respectable. Respectability comes in the form of a paltry 10,000-gallon increase in production. I know of five producers in NE Ohio that could have accounted for those 10,000 gallons. Now let us look at the number of taps. It remained the same as 2017, 400,000 taps for the entire state of Ohio.  The only believable statistic is the yield per tap of 0.225 resulting from the low sugar content in the sap. Let us compare how neighboring states did. Pennsylvania produced 142,000 gallons, and Michigan produced 125,000 gallons. That has to be a tough pill to swallow for any Buckeye supporter.  The big winner, no surprise – Vermont, cranked out 1,940,000 gallons. New York overcame a lot of cold weather to produce their new high mark of 806,000 gallons, and Maine produced 539,000 gallons, down from 709,000 in 2017, but they experienced a deep freeze late in the season.

If my remarks seem somewhat caustic, I apologize. Yes, you can blame it on the weather or you can blame it on apathy on the part of the producers in their reporting. Unfortunately, it has become a well-known fact that Ohio maple producers do not want to report their production. In addition, it could be the reporting system is partially to blame. Let’s face it, with a large portion of the syrup being produced in the Amish community, and a reporting system that depends more and more on digital technology, there may be a problem. I back this up with the fact that only 400,000 taps were reported, and if that is the case, the number of taps in Ohio has literally stood stagnant for almost ten years. No expansion in Ohio! I flat out do not believe this to be the case. I cannot prove it but I think there are 400,000 taps in northeast Ohio alone.

So why is reporting important and am I justified in my frustrations? If you believe what is reported and you are a maple producer, you are now involved in a stagnant agricultural industry that is going nowhere fast. Whether you the producer believes it or not, that fact does not matter. It is what the local and state governments believe that counts. It is what The Ohio State University, the state’s premier land grant institution, believes that counts. Right now House Bill 66 sits in front of the state legislature. If the bill passes and is signed into law, maple producers would receive a significant reduction in their land taxes. At the very least, the bill’s consideration may change the way counties look at CAUV (Current Agricultural Use Value) for maple producing landowners. In addition, OSU’s College of Food Agriculture and Environmental Sciences is being asked by the Ohio Maple Producers Association to employ additional staff to work with maple producers. Do you think the 2018 USDA NASS report is incentive to act on that request? More than anything else, what kind of message are we sending to Ohio consumers? If all they hear is the negative news of a stagnant industry, will they believe that we have a good supply of maple syrup in Ohio or will they resort to buying Vermont maple syrup off the grocery shelves? It is time that we look at how we measure the value of the Ohio maple syrup industry to Ohio’s overall agricultural economy. As producers, we owe it to ourselves to see that the majority of the syrup we produce goes in the accounting book. The future of the Ohio maple syrup industry may depend on it.

Author: Les Ober, Geauga County OSU Extension

2017 Maple Syrup Production in Ohio Better Than 2016

2017 production results were published in the USDA NASS survey on June 9th. For Ohio, the numbers were an improvement over 2016 but only marginally. Ohio produced 80,000 gallons, a slight improvement over the 70,000 gallons produced last year. Once again, 75% of the producing states improved their production, and for many, it was a major improvement.  New York and Maine each added close to 50,000 gallons over last year’s production. The nation’s leading producer of maple syrup – Vermont – again finished right below 2 million gallons.  Vermont is in no danger of losing its crown. Finishing out the top 5 were New York (760,000 gallons), Maine (709,000), Wisconsin (200,000) and New Hampshire (154,000). Ohio continues to slide in its ranking to a disappointing 9th place. However, Ohio producers did increase production over 2016 by 10,000 gallons due to an early start. The earliest 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 a problem given the mild weather conditions we experienced in January, and you will also remember we set all-time record highs on February 24th with a balmy 77 degrees Fahrenheit. Ohio’s season ended early around March 16th. Syrup per tap, a measurement where Ohio was once a leader, dropped to 0.20 gallons per tap – a second subpar year in a row for the Buckeye State. By comparison, Vermont recorded their earliest start, also on January 1, with their average starting date February 24th, but had almost an extra 3 weeks of production on average with an average closing date of April 10. Both New York and Maine experienced similar scenarios.

One final statistic that has shown a modest improvement over last year, but is still below 2015, is the number of taps reported for Ohio – 400,000 taps in 2017. For anyone working closely with the Ohio maple industry this statistic is mind boggling given that expansion has occurred in sugar bushes across the state for 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 the 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 dropped to 30% in 2016. At the same time the bulk sales market expanded from 32% in 2015 to 43% in 2016 (Note: these numbers are always one year behind the current year). Examining market trends of the Big 3 states (Vermont, New York and Maine), the largest percentage of their syrup is sold as bulk (46%, 86%, and 93% in New York, Vermont, and Maine, respectively). It 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 Canada’s 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 during the last five years, we have not experienced consistent “normal” seasons for maple production. The years of 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. The Polar Vortex years of 2014 and 2015 presented their own challenges due to the extremely cold winters and late season starts that we experienced. The fact is, when the weather is right, make your move and tap your 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 reason to tap early is syrup quality. It is much easier to make a quality product in the first half of the season rather than while fighting increased bacterial contamination and slowing tapholes later in the season. Hopefully 2018 will be a banner year for Ohio maple producers, we are long overdue for a good one.

Author: Les Ober, Geauga County OSU Extension

The Ohio Maple Syrup Season: Moving Forward?

budded-red

Photo caption: Red Maple in Middlefield Township, Geauga County, Ohio, March 1, 2017

It is March 2nd, and we have just witnessed the warmest February on record in the Cleveland area. The 77 degree day that we experienced on Friday, February 24th, shattered every record for a high temperature in the month of February, and it was also the highest winter temperature in Cleveland for any winter month. The way the month of February ended cast a dark shadow on our ability to make maple syrup in Ohio. Now we are in March and the cold temperatures have come back but where does that leave us?

Many trees have already budded out. All of the silver maple and many red maples that are out in the open have full buds. The sugar maples though have not yet budded and this is one of the main reasons why we prize and select for this species of maple. Given the conditions we have had to date, one thing is for certain – if you have not tapped yet, the potential to make a significant amount of syrup is gone. The next warm spell will likely end the season for everyone.

Now let’s address the producers that have been making syrup and have the potential to make more syrup. If you have red maples, make sure you look at them very carefully or just pull the taps, especially trees in the open such as along a field edge or road side. Several producers with large populations of reds have called it quits altogether due to budding. For those with sugar maples, the potential is there to make more syrup, but you need to be careful not to spoil that sap by collecting sap from red maples too that have already budded.

At this point, a producer’s biggest enemy is bacteria. Everything needs to be cleaned out and drained. You could literally see high levels of bacteria building in the lines and tanks over the previous week of warm weather. Many producers just kept the vacuum pumps running during that period and hoped for the best. Many collected a fair amount of sap due to weather fronts that pushed through. I am certain it paid to operate the pumps keeping lines clear and tapholes as cool as possible. If you shut off the vacuum because the trees quit running, I hope you were using check valves because this would have given you some degree of bacterial protection at the taphole.

Now that the cold weather has returned, what kind of syrup will we make? The answer will come once your fire up the evaporator. If the sap is “buddy”, you will know it. And if it’s not, you’ll most likely be producing a darker grade of syrup. That is not necessarily bad because most producers made a good batch of Golden Delicate early on. If the producer chooses, the two could be blended but taste will determine that. You can blend for color but you cannot blend for taste. If your syrup has a slight off flavor from sour sap or budding, it will show up in the blended grade. There is virtually no way to mask a syrup’s off flavor once it is there, and there is no reason to ruin good syrup that you have already made. That is why some producers already chose to call it quits rather than risking a batch of off-flavored in the sugarhouse.

Producers that tapped in early January have had an average season. The biggest question is, after last year and this year, have we established a new normal for Ohio maple syrup production or maybe the two distinct zones of production in Ohio are just consolidating. I say this because if you produce syrup near the Ohio River, you would normally tap in January. If you live in NE Ohio you would normally tap in mid-February. Maybe we are now seeing a climate shift that will establish a universal tapping date for the entire state. After this year, producers must finally realize one can no longer tap solely by the calendar. If you produce maple syrup in Ohio, you must to be ready to go by New Year’s Day. If the season does not start until February, so be it – but at least you will be ready. Climate change is just that – change, and the only certainty in life is change. We change our systems, we change our tapping technology, we adapt.

Author: Les Ober, Geauga County OSU Extension