Maple workshop will examine strategies for more effective sap collection

The sap collection and handling methods a maple syrup producer chooses will greatly influence both the quality and the quantity of the syrup produced and, as a result, the amount of profit that the producer will earn. With that in mind, several Cornell Cooperative Extension Associations across northern New York are offering workshops intended to provide area maple syrup producers and would-be producers with cost-effective guidelines for spout and dropline replacement procedures that can increase both productivity and profitability.

The information that follows pertains to the upcoming Franklin County workshop:

DATE: Oct. 3

TIME: 5 to 8 p.m.

LOCATION: Titus Mountain Ski Center; 215 Johnson Road, Malone, NY (7 miles south of Malone village, off of County Route 24)

COST: $20 or free for Franklin County Maple Association members and New York State Maple Producers Association members. Includes a pizza supper sponsored by the Franklin County Maple Association

REGISTRATION: Required on or before Oct. 1 by phone (518-483-7403) or email (

Please note: This workshop will include a tour of Titus Mountain’s new state-of-the-art Moon Valley Maple sugaring operation, whose 6,400 tap setup is anticipated to expand to more than 13,000 taps for the 2014 season.

Take a look at any maple equipment supplier’s catalog or website and you’ll quickly notice just how much the maple industry has been advancing in recent years. Both large production and small farm sugaring operations now utilize the most advanced tools and technologies available to produce hundreds of gallons of quality maple syrup of exceptional flavor.

Sap collection is the first and, arguably, the most important step in maple syrup production. Traditionally, sugar maple trees were drilled and metal spouts, or spiles, were inserted into the drilled tap holes. Metal sap buckets with angled metal lids were then hung from hooks on the spiles for sap collection. While it was once common to see hundreds or even thousands of sap buckets hanging on trees during the sugaring season, gravity flow tubing systems, in which the natural slope of the land is used, and airtight vacuum tubing systems have, for the most part, eliminated the use of sap pails, today.

Many producers also employ reverse osmosis, a filtration technique in which maple sap is filtered through a semi-permeable membrane under high pressure to remove as much as 75 percent of the excess water from the sap, before the sap reaches the evaporator. Other multi-stage filtration and pre-heating processes may also be used to concentrate and increase the sugar percentage in sap to be boiled, and to remove sediment and impurities as well. Because far less water needs to be boiled off in the evaporator, these technologies substantially reduce the amount of time and energy used to make syrup.

The variety of tubing available to maple syrup producers for both mainlines and droplines is now greater than ever before. Studies conducted by both Cornell University and the Proctor Maple Research Center at the University of Vermont have shown that plastic tubing consistently produces higher yields of cleaner sap than bucket collection and, like so many of the adaptations that we’ve been seeing in maple sugaring technology in recent decades, the focus of these newly developed tubing innovations are largely on making the sap harvesting process more efficient, in this case by allowing the producer to significantly increase yields while maintaining the health of crop trees.

The available assortment of spouts is just as, if not more diverse than the selection of tubing, with almost all of the modifications and variations centered on reducing the amount of damage sustained by crop trees, even as they are being drilled and tapped year after year after year. One of the biggest changes in the past decade or so has been the introduction of smaller 5/16-inch spouts (vs. the traditional 7/16-inch spouts), often referred to as ‘health spouts.” Studies by both Cornell University and UVM have consistently shown that the use of these smaller spouts will significantly reduce damage within the cross-sectional area of the tap hole, while allowing the tree to heal (close the tap hole wound once the spout is removed) more quickly. University studies have also shown that the use of health spouts will only minimally reduce sap flow on gravity fed systems,while no loss in sap flow will occur with vacuum collection.

There are several styles of 5/16-inch spouts offered by maple equipment suppliers – so many in fact, that it may be difficult to ascertain which one is best for a producer’s operation. There are adaptors and reducers available for modifying 7/16-inch spiles and tubing systems, as well.

A few years ago, Leader Evaporator Company, Inc. brought a check valve adaptor to market. The one-time-use adaptor was conceived and developed by Dr. Timothy Perkins at UVM’s Proctor Maple Research Center. It is designed to reduce the development of microbial contamination at the tap hole. Microbial contamination promotes premature tap hole closure and reduces sap flow during the sugaring season. Lapierre Equipment now offers as seasonal spout, which is made of clear polycarbonate and tapered in a way that is intended to allow it to better adhere to wood, thereby forming a superior seal and reducing the likelihood of leaks.

Of course, producers will have to weigh the costs and benefits of these options for themselves, but the information that will be offered at this workshop can help make sap collection and syrup production more rewarding and less labor-intensive work. Please remember, no matter what your sap collection choices, proper maintenance and safety remain essential.

The Strategies for More Effective Maple Sap Collection workshops, which have been made possible by support from the Northern New York Agricultural Development Program are being headed by Mike Farrell; northern New York maple specialist and director of Cornell University’s Uihlein Forest and Maple Syrup Research and Extension Field Station, in Lake Placid.