Exterior shot of Sweet Maples Sugarhouse, Newbury, N.H. Courtesy of Sweet Maples Sugarhouse
SUGAR SHACK: It’s what’s inside that counts. This one at Newbury, N.H., has got it.

Maple sugaring: Assess its small-scale startup potential

All you want to know about starting up a small-scale sugaring business to generate extra income can be found via this sustainable ag report.

Maple syrup-making, especially its value-added product sweet spot, has built a market generating more than $126 million in sales for 4.27 million gallons of sap. Most of it is produced in eastern Canada and the Northeastern United States.

While Vermont accounts for 47% of U.S. production, New York, Maine, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Ohio and Connecticut produce notable amounts, according to USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service. Growth in value-added products — maple cream, maple candy and maple sugar — keep the upside potential attractive for small-scale commercial operations.

That’s why the National Center for Appropriate Technology developed Maple Sugaring: An Introduction to Small-Scale Commercial Production. This free online publication explores the business as a means to diversify farm operations and income. It provides an overview of maple sugaring, including business planning, financial considerations, marketing, equipment and supplies, value-added products, organic certification, regulations and quality control — plus a list of suggested links to other resources.

Like any business startup venture, all novices need to go into it with eyes and ears wide open. It’s a competitive, complex business, with rapidly changing technologies. The USDA-funded program and report addresses those concerns.

Sap from the sugar maple is most commonly used for maple syrup production. Syrup can also be made with sap from red maple, black maple and silver maple trees. Collecting and boiling sap from black walnut, birch and box elders, is also growing, with niche markets and higher prices than maple. But while sugar maple sap generally has 2% sugar, other maples run 1% sugar — substantially increasing the amount of sap boiled to make just 1 gallon of syrup. The sap yield and sugar content of other species tend to be even lower.

The NCAT publication also covers market options and tree-tapping tips plus developing food safety regulations. In addition, included are cameo stories on the Cedarvale Maple Syrup Co. at Syracuse, N.Y., and Loch’s Maple and Fiber of Springville, Pa. This 16-page downloadable publication includes web links to other web resources — Cooperative Extension, state maple associations, equipment suppliers and more.

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