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.

Ohio Slips to Eighth in the Nation in 2015 Maple Syrup Production

We knew the 2014 season got off to a late start and might translate to a below average season, but we hoped that would not happen and in a way it did not. Ohio produced 115,000 gallons of maple syrup in 2015, only a 15,000 gallon dip in production from 2013.  The bigger news is that Ohio slipped from being ranked 6th in production in 2014 and as high as 4th in 2012 to 8th in the nation for maple production in 2015. This was reported in the USDA Nation Agricultural Statistic Service (NASS) June Crop Production Report released June 10, 2015.

The bottom line is that Ohio had an average season, but other maple states are improving their production and advancing faster than Ohio. NASS reported 2015 maple producing states, ranked from top to bottom in gallons produced as follows.

The stand out statistic is tap numbers. According to USDA NASS, Ohio has not significantly increased their tap numbers in three years. We remain stuck between 440,000 and 450,000 taps. New Hampshire, a state that perennially has finished below Ohio in production, added close to 100,000 taps in the last year and is now ranked ahead of Ohio. Our neighbor to the east Pennsylvania continues to take advantage of their growth potential and has steadily increased its production each year.

Maybe you disagree with the results of this annual survey, I know I do. To report that Ohio has not increased tap numbers in 3 years is beyond belief, but it is not the survey’s fault. NASS only reports the survey returns they get back and they only get reports from a small number of producers. If you consider a large producer to be 5000+ taps, then took the number 5000 and divided it into 440,000 taps total, the math says Ohio only has 88 total producers. Even if you took the number 2000 and repeated the simple equation, you can quickly see that there is a large amount of syrup production going unreported in our state. It should be noted that under-reporting is not an Ohio issue only, but perhaps the degree of under-reporting in Ohio is greater than in some other states surveyed by NASS.

Why should we care? In a world that is run on statistics and where more times than not the squeaky wheel gets the grease, Ohio maple producers could quickly come out on the short end of the deal. From time to time, the Ohio Maple Producer’s Association has applied for funds to help spur Ohio’s maple industry. These grant funds are limited and we are pitted against other states with similar needs. A market segment that is in decline or stagnant will not get the consideration that a growing segment will. I have always said the Ohio maple industry is a growth industry and I am sticking to that, but it is not being reflected in the NASS report. There are many people that judge a book by its cover, and the cover according to NASS is that maple syrup production is slipping in Ohio. Insiders may strongly suspect different but that does not count. Unfortunately the NASS report is the only tool we have to evaluate our progress, everything else is just speculation.

In a move to highlight the survey’s importance to Ohio maple producers, OSU Extension extended an invite to a representative from Ohio’s NASS for our winter meetings. We hoped that attending producers would see the value of the survey and participate. I have said this before and I’ll say it again – too much syrup in Ohio is going unreported and that fact may eventually hurt our industry.

Overall, Ohio production was average at best for 2015. I blame it on a late start and a shortened number of production days. On average, we started production March 7th and closed April 3rd meaning Ohio producers were only in production 27 days this year. However, that was one day longer than Vermont, which produced 1,390,000 gallons. A final metric to consider is yield per tap, an area in which Ohio has traditionally excelled. Ohio continued to slide closer to a quart of syrup per tap producing only .26 gallons per tap in 2015. To compare, we produced .352 gallons of syrup per tap in 2013 (second highest in the nation). Overall Ohio’s 2015 season was below average. Let’s hope 2016 is better.

If you want to read the whole report, go to the USDA NASS website and enter Crop Production June 2015 into search. Click the top search result and scroll down to the 2016 PDF report (which summarizes 2015 production). Maple reporting begins on page 79.

Author: Les Ober, Geauga County OSU Extension