Maple syrup production crop report for February 3 to 9, 2014

Welcome to the maple syrup production crop report service for the 2014 season.  The report will be updated each week on Monday afternoon or Tuesday morning during the sap collection season and will include a weekly summary of sap flow events across the province, syrup quality reports, producer experiences with processing and filtering and various production topics.  Thank you to the Ontario maple syrup producers who provide information to assist with the content of each weekly report.

Overall health of the sugarbush

The 2013 growing season provided relatively good conditions for farm woodlots and managed sugarbushes.  Ample rainfall during summer and fall, followed by continuous deep snow cover during winter in most areas has kept tree roots moist throughout winter.  Maple trees will have manufactured an adequate supply of sugar, stored in the form of starch, in the trees to supply sweet sap for maple syrup production and will enable the trees to begin new growth when spring arrives. Trees should be in good health where proper tapping practices have been followed during past sugaring seasons and sugar bushes have been managed using Good Forestry Practices.

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Photo 1.  Tap holes from the 2012 and 2013 seasons, fully healed over with new wood growth indicates a healthy tree.  Tap holes from small diameter health spouts heal much faster than old traditional 7/16th inch spouts.

Ice storm damage: Many sugarbushes located from Kitchener eastward to Belleville have sustained moderate damage to the upper canopy and loss of larger limbs due to heavy ice accumulation that occurred during the Christmas season.  Trees having ice damage will require two or more years to replace the finer branch structure and bud wood necessary for a full healthy canopy.  Large broken areas on significant limbs and trunks will remain exposed and will be sites for decay in the coming years.  Trees that sustained severe damage to trunks with major loss of canopy may best be removed to allow regenerative growth of future sugar maple trees.  Many affected producers have been busy repairing downed mainlines and lateral sap collection tubing caused by falling branches.  Producers can consider conservative tapping or no tapping in stressed sugarbushes this year, depending on severity of damage.  Monitor the overall health and recovery of the trees closely over the coming spring and summer.

When to tap maple trees

The traditional method of waiting until March to tap trees is practiced less frequently.  Good sap collection opportunities can be missed during February in early areas.  After January, many commercial producers now watch long-range weather forecasts to determine when tapping can begin.  Earliest areas in south-western Ontario often begin tapping 2 to 3 weeks ahead of late season areas in northern and northeastern regions.  Tapping in earliest areas generally begins sometime after January depending on the weather, but should be delayed until sapwood has warmed to a temperature above -5 °C.  Tapping frozen wood below – 5 °C can lead to splitting of bark above and below tap holes when spiles are seated into trees.  Large operations can require several weeks to complete tapping in order to collect early sap flows and must plan accordingly.

New syrup producers can learn many valuable details of tapping and syrup processing by interacting with experienced syrup producers for the first few years.  The Ontario Maple Syrup Producer’s Association can put new producers in contact with experienced producers.

Conservative tapping guidelines

Many commercial maple syrup producers using vacuum tube sap collection equipment now prefer to follow conservative tapping guidelines each year as a normal practice.   Conservative tapping is recommended by leading maple researchers for sustainable production.  The objective of tapping is to minimize injury to the tree while maximizing the quantity of sap collected.   Proper tapping is particularly important where higher vacuum pressures of 22 to 26 inches of mercury are applied.

Conservative tapping guidelines for vacuum tube collection

Diameter of the trunk at chest height

Number of taps per tree

Less than 10 – 12 inches (25 – 30 cm)

No taps – encourage healthy annual growth

10 to 18 inches (25 – 45 cm)

1 tap

18 inches (45 cm) or greater

2 taps

Commercial producers and hobbyists using bucket collection or gravity flow sap tube collection can also consider tapping conservatively to minimize injury to the trees.

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Photo 2.  A diameter of 10 to 12 inches (25 to 30 cm) at chest height can have 1 tap per tree.  A minimum diameter of 12 inches for tapping is most conservative.

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Photo 3.  A diameter of 18 inches (45 cm) or greater can have 2 taps per tree.  Two taps on under-sized trunks will compete for the same sap supply within the tree, where higher vacuum pressures are used.  Minimize tapping to reduce injury to the tree.

Preparing for sap and syrup

Prior to tapping, producers can utilize this time to clean and sanitize all sap collection tanks, hoses, filters, evaporator pans and syrup containers to be ready to receive the first sap flows.  Ensure that an adequate supply of fuel is at hand.  Containers intended for immediate sales can be clean and ready for hot packing syrup. Ensure proper labels for containers are available.  The label type will depend on whether producers are registered federally with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency or are provincially registered.

Record-keeping forms and traceability forms should be ready for the first sap runs.  Remember to batch code each run of syrup in a number or lettering system that allows you to trace all syrup that is in storage, on store shelves, or has been sold, in the unfortunate situation where a recall is necessary.  Consumers can sometimes confuse ‘dated’ batch codes on containers with ‘best before’ expiry dates where perfectly good syrup has been needlessly wasted.   A remedy is to avoid using an obvious date as a batch code system; although there are ways to use dated numbering systems that are not obvious to consumers as dates.  The batch codes must be understood by the syrup producer.

This maple production crop report was prepared by Todd Leuty, Agroforestry Specialist, Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food and Ministry of Rural Affairs.  Email: todd.leuty@ontario.ca  Telephone: (519) 826-3215.

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