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.

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

USDA CFAP Assistance Now OPEN for Ohio Maple Producers

To read a previous post for additional background to the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program, please read Les’ article from August.  Additionally, you can view a presentation from the Out of the Woods: Enriching Your Maple Business webinar series on CFAP.  Keep reading for updates on CFAP’s second round of assistance.

Ohio maple producers are now eligible for the second round of the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP). Signup started on September 28 and will run until December 11, 2020, through your local USDA Farm Service Agency Office. This round of CFAP is slightly different from the first cycle. Unlike the first round where you were paid on the volume of sap produced in 2020, you will now be paid based on the revenue generated from your 2019 maple crop. This is an important difference! Be prepared to share records of your gross sales from your 2019 crop. USDA will convert that number to sap valuation, and you will receive a payment on a percentage of the 2019 crop.

The diagram below shows that lower level sales operations (under $49,999) will receive a slightly higher percentage compensation (10.6%) than higher sales producers (9.9%; $50,000-$100,000).  Producers grossing more than that will see incrementally lower percentage rates of compensation, though differences are small.

We know that the 2020 season has not been easy for many maple producers. Reports from those that lean heavily on Internet sales have been positive, while those relying on local retail sales have suffered. With an uncertain holiday season ahead, maple syrup producers should consider taking advantage of all financial support that is available.

You have until December 11, 2020, to sign up. If you have questions, call your local USDA Farm Service Agency Office.

Author: Les Ober, Geauga County OSU Extension

CFAP Webinar for Maple Producers

The news that maple is now included in the USDA’s list of crops eligible for Coronavirus Food Assistance Program relief is BIG!  For more details, you can click back to this recent post by Les Ober.

On September 1 at 7 PM, make plans to attend a webinar hosted by Ohio State University, Future Generations University (WV), and Penn State that breaks down CFAP for maple producers.  The webinar grows out of the region’s tri-state ACER collaborative.  Specific topics include how to determine your operation’s eligibility for CFAP, how to fill out the CFAP application, and other practical help to take advantage of the relief program.  Cindy Martel and Les Ober will be the speakers.

Register for the CFAP Maple webinar here.

Our team is proud that this hyper-relevant topic will open a brand new series of free webinars for maple producers.  The series will highlight diverse topics that enhance your maple business ranging from marketing and taxes to tree science and woodlot management.  The series is called Out of the Woods: Enriching Your Maple Business.

 

Maple Syrup Included in USDA CFAP Program

As of August 12, 2020, maple syrup producers who have been impacted by the pandemic will now be eligible to apply for financial assistance from the USDA under the CFAP program (Coronavirus Food Assistance Program). Here is a little background information on how we arrived at where we are at today.  COVID-19 has changed the American and global consumers’ buying habits. The pandemic has also impacted the work force required to process our food, and workers need to get food products on the table.

CFAP stands for Coronavirus Food Assistance Program. It was one of the first programs to be initiated by the United States Government to help the American farmer. Once the pandemic arrived, lawmakers were almost instantly aware that domestic agriculture was on a slippery slope. They recognized that farmers, who had already been under a severe financial strain for the last several years, were going to get hit doubly hard with the arrival of COVID-19. The first commodities to be included were livestock, dairy and grain. Livestock and dairy were in immediate need of assistance due to a radical shift in the food chain, and supplies of dairy products and meat were backing up in the system. Grain farmers have been subjected to declining markets since 2015. The pandemic along with other world events, such as  African Swine Fever and trade tariffs have brought commodity prices to near record lows. Similar patterns occurred with many fruit and vegetable crops due to shifting market demand, inability to harvest, and untimely delivery constraints. Unfortunately, maple was excluded from the long list of specialty crops up until just a few days ago.

Maple has never been as susceptible as other crops to severe financial setbacks and wild cyclical price swings. Maple producers do an excellent job of marketing and for the most part there has not been a severe downtrend in maple syrup prices. The biggest factor impacting maple producers was that the timing of the pandemic hit U.S. soil at the exact same time that a new year’s crop was coming off the evaporators. Maple is somewhat unique in that it has a long shelf life and is produced in a relatively small region. No one knew in late March what impact the coronavirus would have on maple prices. It took 4 months of declining bulk and retail prices for the USDA to realize that maple was suffering a setback due to COVID-19. Certainly, no one was initially aware that COVID-19 would close festivals, fairs, and farmer’s markets across the country, but that was a huge blow to many sugar makers as well. Shuttered small businesses may have dealt the largest blow to the maple industry due to the sheer volume and distribution of specialty stores that handle local maple products. The second round of eligible CFAP payees again neglected maple producers, and legislators from major maple-producing states started to grow more vocal over the oversight.

Finally just last week, maple sap was included in the CFAP commodity list. The term maple sap may seem a little odd but that is what USDA has always referred to maple syrup with this product label. Maple is not a new commodity to USDA, and it has always been in their list of specialty crops. Other crops in that category include grapes, hay, and more. Specialty crops can initiate a Non-insured Crop Disaster Assistance Program (NAP) payment when there is a natural disaster and a crop is severely impacted.

Now that maple has finally been added to the list of eligible crops for CFAP, producers must act fast to receive a payment. FSA (Farm Service Agency) offices will start taking applications on Aug 17, 2020. The deadline was originally August 28 but it has been extended until September 11, 2020. CFAP is open to all maple producers in all producing states, and any maple producer is eligible even if you have not requested the services of FSA before. If you have never worked with FSA, it is suggested that you make an appointment with your local FSA office to help fill out the application. There are several additional forms you will need to sign. Applications are also available online. Unless maple producers also raise other program crops, they will probably want to arrange a visit with their local FSA office for assistance.

Finally, USDA will also offer a webinar with recent CFAP updates for specialty crop producers on August 19 at 3 PM.

Author: Les Ober, Geauga County OSU 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