Friday, May 15, 2009

Maple Sugar Bush Production For Forest Owners

At the MFO training we heard from Mike Farrell of Cornell’s maple program at the Uihlein Forest. It turns out that New York is not what it should be in maple production, it’s second in the nation. The US imports four times more syrup from Canada than it produces. New York City alone consumes more syrup that all of New York State produces.

Here is a little more of what we learned:

All maple produces syrup, but sugar maple produces the most and the sweetest sap. However, a very large well-established and healthy red maple can produce nearly as much as a smaller less-healthy sugar maple.

You can tell sugar maple from red maple because the bark peels from the side; red maple bark peels from the top and bottom.

Trees less then 10 inches in diameter should not be tapped; the recommendation is one tap per tree, two on very large trees. Taps should be moved around the tree (about an inch and a half a year) and up and down a few inches. Spouts should be 5/16, instead of the older 7/16.

An average sugar bush has 50-60 taps per acre (about 30% of the basal area is maple), easy access, and a gentle slope with water and power at the bottom. Roads should be as few and as straight as possible with grades 3-10%; try to keep keep water off your roads.

Tapped maples don’t die sooner, but they do grow considerably slower. Regeneration of the sugar bush should be considered – that requires protection of seedlings from browsers (like deer!), freedom from species competition, and adequate sunlight. Conifers attract squirrels, which can be a problem – they love to chew on taps and tubing.

Tubing is more environmentally friendly, produces a greater yield, and is less work than taps and buckets. It should be run tight, straight, and downhill. Vacuum systems add up to two to three times the yield to gravity systems. They can be left in place, but they still have to be maintained and annually flushed (use a power washer and plain water – chlorine can build up salts in the line and encourage pests). Tubing costs about $8 per tap to install.

Options for landowners include leasing to a producer, collecting and selling sap to a producer, or producing your own (most work, and profit). Setting up your sugar bush may make you eligible for an New York property tax agricultural assessment.

What about saw timber? There is a nice market for tapped maple butt logs (previously not usually accepted by local mills for saw timber and generally only used for firewood) because the wood is stained and has a natural look (the more tap holes, the more money a board can be worth). Butt log boards can fetch $3 a board foot by marketing it as a specialized wood product.

Check out for used equipment and the New York State Maple Producers Association for information on setting up a maple syrup operation.

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