2021 Maple Production: NASS Survey in Review

The 2021 NASS Maple Syrup Production Report was published June 10th.  Production in the United States dropped 700,000 gallons from 4,111,000 in 2020 to 3,424,000 in 2021. Vermont production declined 500,000 gallons from 1,950,00 in 2020 to 1,540,000 in 2021. NY dropped 157,000 gallons from 804,000 in 2020 to 647,000 gallons in 2021. Oddly enough, Maine held steady missing last year’s production by only 5,000 gallons (495,000 gallons total). Maine’s production has been remarkably stable over the last three years. Of the seven states polled only Wisconsin showed an increase in production. The Badger State increased production from 265,000 in 2020 to 300,000 in 2021. Pennsylvania, the closest state to Ohio geographically and often mirroring our production, recorded 165,000 gallons in the 2021 NASS survey, down 13,000 gallons from last year. Ohio is not listed because they and six other states were dropped from NASS’ survey in 2019.

There were many reasons for this year’s decline in maple production. Nationally, sap was collected for 27 days compared to 34 in 2020. In most regions, prolonged cold weather delayed the season start even though this was not reflected in the statistics. The survey actually showed normal start and stop dates; the extended bouts of time when it was too cold for sap to run is obscured in the more general averages and reflected in the total collection days. Many states started around the first of February and then experienced a 3-week shutdown due to abnormally cold weather. This weather pattern was particularly hard on states like Vermont and New York. Once the weather did warm up, temperatures rose quickly and, for the most part, permanently dramatically closing the season by the start of April.

Another statistic worth looking at is number of taps. The number of new taps has not increased dramatically over the last 3 years in the United States. Taps counted 13,400,000 in 2019, declined in 2020, and rebounded back to 13,335,000 in 2021. Only the state of New York has shown a steady increase in number of taps each of the last three years.

Yield per tap is calculated as the amount of syrup (in gallons) produced per tap in any given year, and this measure is determined for each state. The yield per tap declined from 2020 to 2021, hardly a surprise given the shortened season. The United States average declined from 0.314 to 0.257. States like Vermont and New York saw a decline whereas Wisconsin was the only state holding levels above 0.300 gallons per tap.

What goes into a making a good yield per tap? Normally it indicates a higher level of production especially in the well managed sugarbushes. Consider the fact that this is a statewide metric that averages together producers on high vacuum with producers utilizing buckets and bags. A year like 2021 can be especially hard on bucket producers. Anything over 0.300 (roughly 1/3 gallon of syrup per tap) is considered good, and if a state exceeds this level, you can be assured the high vacuum, high volume producers are pushing 0.500 per tap or more. These are all good benchmarks to rank your personal performance as an individual producer. If you are producing just under a half gallon of syrup per tap in an average year you are doing okay. Is there room for improvement? Yes. There are producers in our own state of Ohio pushing one gallon of syrup per tap – a goal to shoot for!

Overall, the NASS 2021 report contained no surprises. Remember this is a domestic United States report only and does not reflect Canadian production. As we all know, north of the border production is what drives the maple market and that is not likely to change anytime soon.  Long story short, United States production fell this year, but syrup in reserve in places like Quebec will likely stabilize the overall market and prevent any large interruptions.

Author: Les Ober, Geauga County Extension

A Summary of Ohio Maple Syrup Production in 2019

Every June I always look forward to giving the annual maple production summary for Ohio. This has always been in conjunction with USDA’s release of the NASS annual maple syrup report. There has been much discussion over the years about the accuracy of the NASS report. Good or bad it always gave us some idea of how Ohio production compared to the rest of the maple world. This year, a decision by the USDA came down from Washington to remove Ohio and four other states from the survey. Ohio maple syrup production will not be included in the annual USDA NASS maple syrup production report nor will it be included in future surveys for the foreseeable future. As a result, I will do my best to present a guesstimate of Ohio production for 2019.

The 2019 maple season in Ohio was a complete turnaround from the 2018 season. It was a traditional, almost old-fashioned type of season. There was very little talk of climate change, no abnormal spikes in temperature followed by predictions of an early end to the season. The early tappers were out right after the first of the year but a couple of late January-early February polar air blasts tempered their enthusiasm. As the season progressed, more normal cold weather returned. That weather pattern extended through most of February and the majority of producers waited until mid-February to tap. (This was much different from the 2018 season when thermometers topped 74 degrees Fahrenheit on February 24.) The cold returned during the last week of February and ran into the first week of March, but March 7th kicked off a series of runs that extended through Saint Patrick’s Day and beyond. Syrup production was almost non-stop for 20 days. Records were set on many farms, and for the most part, no one called this a poor season. The extended cold weather and snow kept the season going into the first week of April. The cold weather was also responsible for better than normal sap quality. Many producers produced one half gallon of syrup per tap. The only negative in 2019 was niter. Producers seemed to fight a slightly above normal amount of the gummy slime.

Ohio Producers found out last year that when the sap sugar content drops, so too does syrup yield. Unlike last year when we experienced abnormally low sugar content of 1 to 1.5 percent, this year’s sap sugar was normal to a little above normal in the 2% to 2.4% range. Even the soft maples were close to 2%. Sap quality was excellent. The cold weather kept microbial growth to a minimum maintaining high standards of sap quality throughout the season. Good quality sap translates into good quality syrup. This was the story across most of Ohio. Producers in the northeastern portion of the state produced large quantities of Delicate and Amber Syrup. Central Ohio produced the lighter grades early on but also produced some great tasting Dark Robust later in the season. Southern Ohio, producers tapped in late January and early February and extended their season into the third week of March. The southern part of Ohio may have also produced a larger percentage of the darker grades. It is refreshing to sit here and report a good season for a change, but this story has both a good news and bad news side. To sum up the season, this was a very good year for Ohio maple syrup production. Using the 2018 production of 90,000 gallons as a benchmark, I would estimate 2019 production at between 100,000 gallons and 125,000 gallons.

My summary comes from numerous conversations with producers, dealers and buyers across the state. Maple equipment dealers report that their sales across the state have been on a steady rise over the last 10 years. There has also been a steady increase in the volume of syrup handled by bulk buyers in the state. The adoption rate of maple technology has been on the rise, allowing producer to double and triple the number of taps in their woods. Sugar bushes with 2000 to 4000 taps have become commonplace around the state. I can safely say that maple syrup production in Ohio, just like other maple producing states, is on the rise. Even though bulk prices have leveled off, retail prices and the demand for pure maple products is strong. As a result, I do not see this upward trend in production reversing in the near future.

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

Record Crop of Maple Syrup Produced in the United States and Canada

Based on the word from Ohio producers attending annual maple manufacturers’ open houses, it was a big year in New England for syrup production. Many of the big northern Vermont and New Hampshire producers were not present, they were still boiling syrup. When the steam cleared and the last syrup was drawn off, Vermont produced a record 1.9 million gallons of syrup in a single season. Let that sink in, it was only 10 years ago that we struggled to produce 2 million gallons collectively in all of the United States, and in 2016, the state of Vermont produced almost 2 million gallons on their own! Vermont previous record was 1.48 million gallons set in 2013. The United States produced 4.2 million gallons in total, the highest amount in modern record keeping. New York (707,000), Maine (675,000), Wisconsin (235,000), and New Hampshire (169,000) rounded out the top 5 states.

With all the syrup produced in the United States, you can only imagine what they did “north of the border.” Yes it was big, it was really big. The Canadian crop is projected at 13.5 million gallons. This would set a new record for Canadian maple syrup produced and individual provinces are expected to set records as well. You can rest assured that there will not be any shortage of pure maple syrup in the world for some time and one has to wonder what the effect will be on maple syrup prices, especially bulk.

So what about Ohio? Unfortunately, our 2016 did not share in the record crop celebration.

Ohio Maple Producers knew 2016 was going to be a disappointing year for maple syrup production, and the USDA NASS report verified our worst fears. 2016 was a real bummer for the entire state. Total production for Ohio dropped from 115,000 gallons in 2015 to 70,000 gallons in 2016. Yield per tap, generally a good production indicator, averaged 0.275 gallons per tap in 2014 and 2015 but only 0.189 gallons per tap in 2016. Normally Ohio bests most states in production per tap, but this year’s production was on the verge of disaster. The sugar content of sap (often near or below 1%) certainly did not help the overall per tap production of syrup.

Another statistic that was very puzzling was the total number of taps recorded for 2016. This year the number of taps in Ohio dropped from 450,000 to 370,000 taps. In the last 10 years, the number of taps in Vermont and New York almost doubled – Vermont is just shy of 5 million taps and NY is pushing 2.5 million. What is going on in Ohio? Why are we in a statistical state of decline? A better question may be – Is there really a decline? Working with OSU Extension and the Ohio maple industry for the last 18 years, I have witnessed an overall expansion of the industry. It has not been unusual to see the number of 3,000+ tap operations increase every year. I know of several new operations that just eclipsed the 10,000 tap mark. While we will never be in the same category as New York or Vermont, our maple industry is growing. However, when you look at the statistics, we are not recognized as a growth industry – we are an agricultural industry in decline.

The reality is that a large portion of Ohio’s maple syrup production is not being reported. There is an old saying that “if it is worth doing, it is worth doing well.” I believe that Ohio maple producers are doing a good job of producing syrup, but for some reason they are reluctant to let the world know how good of a job they are doing. Because the world rewards those that achieve excellence, it is crucial that Ohio producers improve on their reporting habits and the reward will undoubtedly be increased consumer demand and higher retail sales.

Author: Les Ober, Geauga County OSU Extension

 

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