The weather has been harsh on sugar bushes in Ontario over the past two weeks. From high wind to ice storm – buds, twigs, branches and anchoring roots have been tested for their strength and resilience. Fortunately, this time of year the trees are rehydrating, which makes them a little more flexible compared to their drier condition during winter. No serious damage is reported from wind or ice in most areas, with some clearing and repair of vacuum tubing required.
Maple syrup production has pretty much finished for the season in earliest areas of southwestern Ontario and southern areas towards Cornwall. Early area producers report that the 2018 syrup season has been good for both yield and flavour quality. Predominantly Amber syrup and smaller quantities of Dark syrup are common. Many southern areas received fresh snow and cold winter temperatures, however once buddy sap appears, it typically does not revert back to good sap.
Mid-season areas continued to harvest fresh sap and producers began watching dormant buds closely for growth. Buds remained dormant and growth has been very slow the past few weeks with cold weather. While enduring delays caused by frozen sap and brief afternoon sap runs, producers report the crop yield ranges from 40 to 100 percent of the average provincial yield of 1.1 litres of syrup per tap. Colour classes over the past two weeks saw some Amber with Dark syrup appearing.
Northern late season areas (north of Orillia, north of Highway 7 in eastern regions, and Thunder Bay) producers have experienced very frustrating weather conditions. In Algonquin and St. Joseph Island, day time temperatures have not increased high enough to thaw the sap in trees, aside from brief slow runs during late afternoon.
The syrup crop yield ranges from 20 to 50 percent so far in the north, quality is excellent. Fresh snow has accumulated and remains several feet deep, is capped over in ice making sap line inspections difficult. Snow will help keep the buds on maple trees dormant for several more weeks in the north.
Sap flow forecast
In mid-season areas, buddy off-flavour sap will start to appear over the next week in a northward progression, warm weather is expected and will push dormant buds to elongate and swell.
Northern late areas can expect good sap flow conditions this week followed by a warming trend that could stop sap flow for a few days. Northern areas with significant snow cover should be able to endure a few forecasted warm days while keeping buds dormant. Hopefully cold weather will return and the sap harvest season is only part-way through in northern regions.
Preventing Mould Growth
Author – Sarah Martz, Risk Identification and Management Coordinator, FIB
Mould sometimes grows on the surface of maple syrup. The presence of mould in maple syrup can have a major impact on the perceived quality of the product. Consequently, preventing mould growth is an ongoing challenge for maple syrup producers.
Hot packing is the most widely used mould preventative strategy to combat mould growth. Hot packing involves maintaining syrup temperature of 82 to 90 ⁰C during filling, until containers are capped. Once the containers are capped, they should be inverted in order to reduce spoilage organisms that may be present in the neck of the container and cap liner.
As hot packed maple syrup begins to cool, it contracts, which creates a vacuum in the head space of properly sealed containers. After a few minutes, the container should be cooled rapidly to minimize syrup darkening.
The resulting container environment is oxygen free (anaerobic) which makes it unsuitable for mould growth. Hot packing does not guarantee destruction of all mould spores. Some heat-resistant mould spore populations are capable of surviving temperatures higher than 82 °C.
Alternatively, maple syrup that is not hot packed can be kept in the freezer to prevent mould growth. Another best practice is to reduce the initial mould spore population. This is possible through good cleaning and sanitation practices, particularly in the packaging environment but also through all steps in maple syrup production.
Wind management at the sugar bush
Once the syrup season is completed and equipment is cleaned and stored, producers might take a moment to reflect back to fall and winter, on practices they wish they had in-place. Was wind a problem during tubing installation and repair, during tapping, during the sap harvest season? Planting windbreaks around the farm can add protection from cold wind and damaging gusty wind.
In the sugar bush, moderating cold wind during sap harvest can help frozen trees thaw sooner during the day. Shelter around farm buildings and the sugar house can make work easier and can be designed to keep drifting snow away from laneways and access doors.
Conservation Authorities often offer cost share programs as an incentive to establish new windbreaks and forest cover on farms and private land. The forest industry and Conservation Authorities generally recommend that native trees and shrubs be planted for new forested areas and in farm windbreaks.
Landowners can also purchase trees from private nurseries independently and design their own custom windbreaks or wider shelterbelts. The horticulture industry also offers a wide selection of native and non-native trees and shrubs, as a multicultural approach to establishing tree cover.
Farmers and landowners can decide the species they want to plant, as long as the trees and shrubs are not known to be invasive and noxious through spread. For example, Colorado spruce and Austrian pine are very tolerant of highway road salt spray drift during winter, unlike native conifers. For this reason, these two species are frequently utilized to catch drifting salt spray to protect sensitive orchards and tree nurseries located adjacent to highways.
Trees can be planted using hand shovels or tractor-powered augers. Tractor-drawn tree planters can be rented, borrowed or purchased, where large quantities of trees are to be planted over the years. For those who are new to tree planting, it is important to read or get planting advice from knowledgeable sources.
Starting on April 3, 2018, producers, processors, and other businesses can apply for cost-share funding through the Canadian Agricultural Partnership (the Partnership), a new five-year commitment by Canada’s federal, provincial and territorial governments that will support Canada’s agri-food and agri-products sectors. CAP is similar to previous cost-share programs (e.g. Growing Forward 2).
Businesses can apply for funding to support projects in three key priority areas:
- Economic development in the agriculture, agri-food, and agri-based products sectors. Examples of Producer projects would include novel upgrades to technology or equipment that improve labour productivity, or developing new marketing plans to expand sales.
- Environmental stewardship to enhance water quality and soil health. Specifically, to enhance water quality and soil health. Projects that focus on responsible water and nutrient management through nutrient recovery systems would be eligible.
- Protection and assurance in food safety and plant and animal health. Projects such as adding screening to prevent movement of pests into your greenhouse, or adding an isolation area for high-risk, imported plant material would be eligible.
Producers, processors, and other businesses can apply for cost-share funding from April 3 to May 8, 2018. Program details, including how to apply, program guides and application forms are now available online at: ontario.ca/agpartnership.
Additionally, for many of the activities funded under CAP, growers must attend a Biosecurity Workshop to be eligible. Ten biosecurity workshops are now scheduled on OSCIA website. Most of the workshops are half-day. Find them here.