Maple syrup production report for April 7 to 13, 2014

Previous week summary

The first good sap flows began late last week for many producers in central and northern areas of the province after several weeks delay in the start of the season. Early areas of southwestern Ontario reported they have produced 50 to 80 percent of a normal syrup crop by the end of the week, mainly extra-light and light colour grades with medium grade showing up by the end of the week. Sap sugar is reported 2.5 °Brix.  South central of Grey/Bruce, Orillia, Haliburton/Kawartha over to Ottawa report they have produced 20 to 50 percent of a syrup crop so far with light colour grades.  

Snow remained deep and granular in central area sugar bushes making travel difficult. Snow helped to keep the air temperature cooler during thawing days to keep the buds on maple trees dormant.

Upcoming week

The long-range weather forecast predicts thawing conditions and sap flow will continue in central mid-season and northern areas of the province.   Temperatures may become too warm for sap flow in early southern regions by Thursday and later.  In early areas, dormant buds on soft maple will enlarge quickly with warm daytime temperatures.  Buds on sugar maple trees remain dormant as the new week begins, however, buds will likely begin to swell by the end of the coming week in early areas.  Producers in early areas should begin testing fresh sap for buddy off-flavours by the weekend.

In central and northern areas, ample amounts of snow remain in the sugar bush and will help keep sugar maple buds dormant and sap quality good throughout the week, longer in northern regions.  Several good sap flows should occur in St. Joseph Island, Algonquin and  Ottawa Valley areas. 

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Photos 1 & 2. Modern syrup processing equipment is an expensive investment.  After a late start-up, producers are relieved to be finally making syrup.  Buds on sugar maples in central regions are still dormant as pictured April 7 (right) and sap quality should remain good for the week.  Buds will swell quickly as daytime temperatures increase and nights no longer freeze.  Producers in earliest areas of Niagara and southwestern areas can begin testing fresh sap for buddy off-flavours later this week and after next weekend.

Labelling retail containers

Labelling retail containers of maple syrup must meet some basic regulatory requirements.  This Blog report does not cover all the details of labelling.  Labelling requirements for non-federally registered maple producers are outlined in the infosheet Label Requirements for Maple Products in Ontario (click title to link).

Labels and colour classification stickers for retail containers are available from most maple equipment dealers. Customized labels that are unique to a maple syrup operation can also be ordered in advance from container companies offering this service. Printed labels on plastic jugs or etched images on glass containers are examples of custom-made designs.

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Photos 3 & 4.  The primary panel must state: what is in the container – Maple Syrup, the volume in metric units, grade and colour classification, producer name, exact address and postal code of the operation.  Avoid rural route numbers or post office box numbers in the address.  A telephone number is optional for contact information.  ‘Product of Canada or Ontario’ – this is not necessary if the maple syrup is produced and sold in Ontario but can be optionally added to Ontario syrup to promote Local Foods.  However, maple syrup originating outside the province and repacked in Ontario or blended with Ontario produced syrup must state its origin on the label.   Consult the Canadian Food Inspection Agency for information regarding nutrition labelling requirements.

Batch codes, also called lot codes, are recommended on retail containers for two reasons: to aid in traceability for recall purposes and, to limit product detainment to a batch in the unfortunate event that a recall is necessary.  If a food safety problem occurs, the problem may be traceable to a specific batch of syrup or maple product.  Only the batch in question is detained until the issue is resolved.  With no batch codes, inspectors can detain the entire season of syrup as one batch.  The risk to the producer of not having batch coding and detailed records is the possibility of losing the entire season of production unnecessarily.

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Photos 5 & 6.  A scannable bar code or a simple numbered batch code will have meaning to the producer.  Records of batch codes and sales (example shown below) are maintained by the producer in the unfortunate event of a recall.  Using packing dates as batch codes on retail containers is not wise due to consumers mistaking batch codes for expiry dates.

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Grades and colour classifications for maple syrup

Producers who are federally registered for both export and domestic markets will use the current federal Canada classification grade standards.  Producers who are not federally registered and market their syrup within Ontario must use the Ontario grades and colour classifications required by Ontario Regulation 119/11.

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Table 1. Retail grades and colour classification requirements are outlined above.  Colour classifications may be determined optically by means of a spectrophotometer or, most commonly, by a visual glass comparator (shown below). 

Colourimeter use

Photo 7.  Colourimeters are used for grading maple syrup and have four test comparator grades including: extra-light, light, medium and amber.  Each represents the darkest limit of each colour class, that is, the transition point from one colour class to the next.  Therefore, a comparator jar for ‘dark’ is not needed since any syrup that is equal to or darker than the test jar marked as amber will be graded as ‘dark’.  The test jars contain a mixture of glycerol and caramel pigment prepared by the manufacturer and fade over time.  Replace the colourimeter every two years.

Options for fueling maple evaporators

The cost of fuel to boil maple sap into syrup is a significant expense in the total cost of production. Modern evaporators can be configured to burn furnace oil, propane, firewood, wood pellets or electricity.

Leading manufacturers of maple syrup equipment are constantly developing new and improved evaporators.  New hybrid evaporators utilize a multiple energy system allowing the syrup producer to switch fuels at any time, for example, oil or wood pellets can be selected by changing the burner/fuel feed on the front door. For new producers who are deciding which evaporator model and fuel to use, it helps to know a few details of each system.

To see the newest lines of maple evaporators and other equipment, plan to attend the industry summer tour and conference this year near Lambeth Ontario, July 10 – 12, 2014. The conference is hosted by the Southwestern Producer’s Local of the Ontario Maple Syrup Producer’s Association. See www.ontariomaple.com for conference details.

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Photos 7 & 9.  Wood-fired evaporators of high-efficiency and low emission designs are used by many commercial syrup producers.  Sustainable management of a healthy sugar bush using Good Forestry Practices can usually yield an annual supply of firewood to fuel an evaporator. Firewood is the traditional fuel for maple syrup production. Where firewood is harvested from a producer’s own sugar bush, it should not be considered ‘free fuel’.  The going rate for firewood should be used to determine the cost of production.

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Photos 10 & 11. Wood pellets are the newest fuel in high-efficiency maple syrup evaporators. Wood pellets are readily available and relatively inexpensive from northern forest industries.  Pellets move from a large hopper bin located behind the evaporator by an auger through a pipe to the firebox at a feed rate that is controlled by the producer. Unlike firewood and similar to oil, pellet-fired evaporators cool down fast after the auger is turned off.   Producers report the cost of using wood pellets is significantly less than the cost of furnace oil.

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Photos 12 &13.  A burner for an oil-fired evaporator has simple operation where the flame is either on or off at various intensities with the flip of a switch.  Cool down time is fast, unlike firewood fuel.  A mandatory low-level sensor located in the sap pan will automatically turn off the oil burner if the sap level drops too low.  The sensor is shown on the right which could prevent a burnt pan.

The operation of an oil-fired evaporator is highly regulated in Ontario.  The field approval process can be expensive, however once approved the syrup producer is set to receive oil delivery.  The Ontario Maple Syrup Producer’s Association has a checklist available for producer members to assist with meeting the necessary requirements for field approval.

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Photo & . The fuel tank, location and hookup to the evaporator (left) must meet field approval prior to delivery of oil.  In order to receive delivery from an authorized fuel oil distributor, the evaporator and facility must be inspected by qualified technicians and have been field approved by both the Electrical Safety Authority and the Technical Standards and Safety Authority.  An approved oil-fired evaporator will have the stickers showing electrical inspection and TSSA inspection (right).   Additional requirements are not shown or described in this article.

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