Ontario Maple Syrup Industry Production Report, February 8, 2018

The 2018 maple syrup season is approaching, as the days become longer and winter will soon begin its transition to spring. Modern maple sap harvest is based on weather patterns that predict when a sequence of daytime thawing and night time freezing conditions will become more frequent.  The transition period from winter to spring is the maple syrup season.  Few commercial producers base their sap harvest on a traditional calendar date, as was practiced historically.

In the sugar bush, main lines and lateral lines can be cleared of fallen branches. Wire trellis and vacuum tubing can be tightened to remove sags as much as possible.  Tight tubing and secure leak-free connections will prevent sap pooling between sap flow events.

Producers along Lake Huron are reporting significant branches are down on tubing this winter due to recent high winds. Clearing fallen branches and making extra repairs to tubing is hampering preparations for sap harvest.

Tapping tips

Maintaining a productive sugar bush in optimum health for annual harvest of maple sugar requires following principles of good practice that are established by the maple syrup industry. The health of the maple trees has top priority for commercial sugar bushes.  Each sugar bush should be comprised of at least 15 to 20 percent diversity of other tree species as native natural companions.

Commercial orchard operators must prune off branches and train the structure of their orchard trees each year to optimize tree health and food production. Similarly, sugar bush operators must decide how best to tap and manage the maple trees in their sugar bush.

In many areas, it is still too early to tap trees where very cold freezing temperatures will keep trees frozen solid. Early regions in southwestern Ontario may have suitable conditions for tapping trees early next week.  Avoid tapping into frozen sapwood to prevent splitting injury.

To prevent cracking of bark and sapwood above and below tap holes, avoid drilling tap holes and setting spiles when the temperature of the sapwood is at or below -5 ⁰C.   Completely thawed conditions are ideal for tapping, 0+ ⁰C.

Good bad tap holes

The trunks of crop trees that are exposed to deep freezing temperatures can take several days to thaw to allow for safe tapping, due to the mass of the trunk. Although southern exposures may thaw faster than shaded north facing sapwood, it is important to utilize the full circumference and height of the tapping zone when installing taps.

Tapping practices can vary each year and is based on: the unique characteristics of each site, recent environmental and climatic factors and, on how healthy or how stressed the trees may be.  Maple researchers and the maple syrup industry provide guidance recommendations to help producers decide on a tapping plan.

Tapping guidelines for vacuum tube sap collection, including new 3/8 inch tubing generating natural vacuum on slopes

Taps per tree Trunk diameter at chest height
One tap minimum 10 to 12 inches (25 to 30 cm)
Two taps * minimum 18 to 20 inches (45 to 50 cm)

 *Some producers who operate at very high vacuum, for example, 25 to 28 inches of mercury (vacuum scale) install only one tap per tree in healthy trees. Limiting sap collection to one tap per tree can yield very respectable sap volumes under high vacuum.  One tap per tree significantly reduces the cost of tap installation. Plus, internal staining of the sapwood is also minimized using one tap per tree, preserving more quality sapwood for future years.

Tapping guidelines for bucket collection and conservative tapping

Taps per tree Trunk diameter at chest height
One tap minimum 10 to 12 inches (25 to 30 cm)
Two taps minimum 18 inches (45 to 50 cm)
Three taps 24+ inches (60+ cm)

*Use the smallest diameter tapping drill bit and spiles available to minimize wounding in sapwood. For example, ¼ to 5/16th inch diameter is ideal.

Tapping sharp bit good shavings

Stress agents of sugar bushes

Maple syrup producers can base their tapping practices on the estimated condition of their sugar bush. In addition to two consecutive seasons of good syrup yields in 2016 and 2017, the following are examples of recent natural stress events that occurred singly or in combination in various regions across Ontario:

  • extended summer drought during 2016, requires two or more years of average growth for trees to fully recover.
  • excessive rainfall early in 2017 following the extended dry season in 2016
  • defoliation by Forest Tent Caterpillar larvae, ranged from moderate to severe.
  • defoliation by Cankerworm larvae (Niagara region) and Gypsy moth larvae in various areas
  • low soil pH is common in Canadian Shield sub-soils, can become deficient in natural calcium. Calcium is an essential nutrient for sugar maple health.
  • ice damage causing excessive amounts of broken limbs.

Free Agri-food Courses to Grow Your Business – for producers and processors

Are you interested in developing a strong business and growing your success? Sign up for free agri-food online courses and — for a limited time — free in-person workshops.

Take advantage of the courses to sharpen your competitive edge by gaining skills and knowledge in farm business practices, food safety and traceability. These courses will provide you with foundational information to:

  • reduce risks to your business and customers;
  • improve efficiencies; and
  • access new markets.

You can explore the options that best suit your schedule and learning style.

In-person workshops and webinars

These courses for producers are offered by the Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association (OSCIA):

  • Environmental Farm Plan (workshops)
  • Growing Your Farm Profits (workshops)
  • Biosecurity (workshops)
  • Food Safety (workshops and webinars)
  • Traceability (workshops)

To sign up, go to www.ontariosoilcrop.org. In-person workshops will wrap up during March.

Online courses

E-learning courses are available on Agriculture and Food Education website.

For producers:

  • Water Use
  • Worker Practices
  • Maximizing Your Traceability Investment
  • Growing Your Farm Profits
  • The Basics of Traceability
  • Food Safety Foundations

For processors:

  • Sanitation
  • Recall
  • Personnel
  • Profiting from Traceability
  • The Basics of Traceability
  • Food Safety Foundations

To sign up, go to http://www.agandfoodeducation.ca

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