New Method in Sap Collection Could Challenge VT Sugar Makers

Published 02/07 2014 05:54PM

Updated 02/07 2014 06:21PM

To collect sap you have to tap. But UVM's Proctor Maple Research Center and Dr, Timothy Perkins are developing a new way of doing it.

“The best term we've found so far is capping,” Perkins said.

To make capping happen, Perkins and his team cut the top off a maple sapling and then attach a bag and tubing to the top. A vacuum sucks the sap out.

It's a project four years in the making.

“It actually is a quite efficient method of collecting sap,” Perkins said.

Interestingly enough the method doesn't hurt the trees.

Perkins also says the saplings don’t rely as much on the freeze-thaw cycle to produce sap. That could allow Vermont to continue supporting the maple industry if the climate continues to warm.

The saplings also take up a lot less space than the fully grown maple trees. Meaning more sap for less land.

“We can get considerably more syrup per acre with this method. Up to ten times the volume,” Perkins said.

Some sugar makers don’t necessarily see that as a benefit to their business.

Laura Sorkin is owner of Thunder Basin Maple Works. While she likes the idea of innovation in sugaring,

she believes capping could lead to more maple farms outside of the state, or even overseas, making it harder for the small state of Vermont to compete.

“It's very easy to see plantation maple (capping) taking over and the forest becoming redundant and that would be sad,” Sorkin said.

“If this is a cheaper way to do it they’re going to have to switch over,” UVM economics professor Sara Solnick said.

Solnick says capping could allow for more maple syrup to hit the market lowering prices and forcing the industry to change.

“We'll be able to get the maple syrup more cheaply and in terms of the maple syrup producers it presents a challenge for them,” Solnick said.

Dr. Perkins and sugar makers say capping is a long way from being commercially viable.

“I won't say never for this but at the moment we're not going to be clearing land in the backyard to put those saplings in,” Sorkin said.

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