Sugarmakers boil largest crop in decades

VERMONT — The USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service released its 2013 Maple Syrup Production report and the Vermont maple crop was the largest in 70 years, with 1,320,000 gallons of maple syrup produced this year. Vermont continues to be the national leader in maple syrup production, making 40 percent of the maple syrup produced in the United States. National production was up 70 percent from last year and Vermont realized a 76 percent increase from 2012. Unlike last year, when unseasonably high temperatures impacted yields, cold temperatures in late March and a gradual warming through April created near-optimal conditions for maple sap to run, which requires overnight low temperatures below freezing and daytime temperatures between 40 and 45 degrees.

Vermont’s sugar makers continue to be leaders in the industry, utilizing new technologies to drive significant improvements in efficiency. This is evidenced by production this season, when more farms have utilized a new generation of equipment to be more efficient while sugaring, an important step as a shifting climate provides more seasonal variations from year to year. Vermont’s producers had an average yield of 0.347 gallons of syrup per tap in 2013, yielding 33 percent more syrup per tap than the average 10 years ago.

“The maple industry is currently undergoing a revival and revolution of sorts, largely fueled by improvements in sap collection technology,” says Dr. Timothy Perkins, director of the University of Vermont Proctor Maple Research Center in Underhill. “As much as it has changed in the last 10 years, it will continue to change over the next several decades, driven in response to economics and climate change pressures.”

By utilizing tubing systems running into large storage tanks rather than the old-style buckets, sugar makers can be ready to collect sap when it runs, even during sporadic warming periods through the later winter. These systems also help when the sap runs quickly, reducing the chance of sap spilling onto the ground. 

As technology has changed, so too has the perception of sugaring as a business. In earlier years, maple sugaring was often performed as an off-season component of farming. Now, more people are sugaring full-time. “We are seeing people tapping a sugarbush who have never sugared before,” says Matt Gordon, executive director of the Vermont Maple Sugar Makers’ Association. “Many of these folks start with the vision of their sugarhouse not just as a business, but as an investment. And many long-time sugar makers are able to leverage the consumer interest in Vermont maple syrup and the global reach of the internet to make sugaring a full-time job.” 

The 2013 Vermont maple crop was the largest since 1942, when maple sugar production spiked to help ease wartime rationing of sugar. “The long-term slowdown in maple syrup production in Vermont is clearly over,” says Perkins, “and maple producers are now making as much syrup as they did back in the 1930s and 1940s.” Vermont sugar makers have ramped up production in part to meet a growing demand for pure maple syrup as people become more health conscious and aware of where their food comes from and how it is produced.

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