Use the Local Service Center Finder at the bottom of this link to find your local agency office.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.