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THE MAPLE BUZZ

Tina Hartell

It’s time to head to equipment dealers with our lists and get supplies for the 2014 season: taps, drill bits, tubing, filter paper, hydrometers. The stores are filled with purposeful people feeling the time crunch of spring men standing around drinking coffee out of paper cups and gossiping. It’s a hen house in there: yap yap yapping.

But this year the talk is different. Instead of earnestly discussing the Brown’s new reverse osmosis machine or the leasing of the McDonough’s farm to the Wards, there are two news worthy topics that are getting most of the air time at equipment stores. While I wouldn’t normally post about current events, this is the maple buzz.

1. Changes to the Maple Grading System

For those of you excited because you’ve finally discovered that you like “dark amber” syrup over all other grades: sorry. As of 2105 there will be no more dark amber and instead you will be purchasing syrup that is “dark color/robust taste.”

US and Canada have different grading systems and even within the US, different states have different grading systems. And while states (read: Vermont) feel very loyal to their own system, it makes it tough on the consumer, especially those in emerging markets who don’t even know there are different grades of maple syrup. The new system, adopted first by Vermont, will standardize the grades across the entire industry and make it easier for the consumer to know what he/she is buying.

Current Vermont Grading System                        New Grading System (all Grade A)

Grade A Vermont Fancy                                       Golden Color/Delicate Taste

Grade A Medium Amber and Dark Amber          Amber Color/Rich Taste

Grade B                                                                Dark Color/Robust Taste

Commercial Grade                                              Very Dark Color/Strong Taste

Clearly designed with the consumer in mind which is probably a good thing. However, you can imagine the grumbling this is causing especially among the Old-Timers who cheer when there is something new to grumble about. The new grading system is in effect now and everyone has until 2015 to implement it. Bobo’s will make the switch probably mid-year. So don’t be surprised when you begin to see grade stickers on Vermont syrup with the new designations on them.

Read more at:

http://vtdigger.org/2013/12/10/new-maple-syrup-grading-system-debuts-jan-1/

2. Farming Maple Saplings

While the changes to the maple grading system are actually happening right now, this next topic hasn’t come into the industry yet but it’s causing so much buzz – to the point where friends who aren’t even in the business are emailing me about it – that it’s worth mentioning.

In late 2013, Dr. Timothy Perkins and Abby van Den Berg of the Proctor Maple Research Center at University of Vermont, presented a study that has since shocked the industry. After observing a tree that was missing most of it’s crown produce large quantities of sap, they hypothesized that maples were actually drawing large quantities of sap from their roots and not from the crown, which was originally thought. In order to study this effect further, they lopped off the tops of several trees to measure the sap flow. Since they didn’t want to destroy mature trees, they cut off the tops of saplings. What they found was incredible. These small maple saplings produced an unbelievable amount of sap – all from their stumps.

A regular sugarbush produces on average, about 40-50 gallons an acre from about 60-100 trees. But an acre of what is now referred to as the plantation method could sustain 5,800 saplings producing around 400 gallons of syrup  per acre. What this means is that there may not be any need for forest land to produce maple syrup. Plantations of five-year old maple saplings in rotation, farmed, could be the future of the industry. The pros and cons of this method are interesting to follow, and while I’m not going to get into them here, check out Laura Sorkin’s piece in Modern Farmer. She tackles them there.http://modernfarmer.com/2014/01/maple-syrup-revolution/

A lot to discuss these days in equipment stores. Better put on another pot of coffee.