Syrup producers enjoy best crop in years

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(Host) Vermont’s 2004 Maple syrup crop was the best in years, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

VPR’s Steve Zind reports.

(Zind) Vermont is the nation’s largest maple syrup producer and this year the state made 500,000 gallons of maple syrup. That’s up nearly 20 percent from last year and the biggest crop in eight years.

(Rick Marsh) “This was one of our best years ever.”

(Zind) Rick Marsh is a fifth generation producer in Jeffersonville. He’s also vice president of the Vermont Maple Sugar Makers Association. Marsh made 3,200 gallons of syrup this year. He tapped 7,000 trees. He says his operation used to be among the largest in the state, but now some Vermont sugar makers tap up to 20,000 trees.

For these producers, sap buckets are outdated tools of the trade. They use tubing to carry the sap from the trees to a central collection point. Marsh says a key reason why syrup production is up is recent improvements made in the technology. New equipment creates a strong vacuum in the tubing, enabling sugar makers pull sap from the trees on days when it isn’t running.

(Marsh) “Where normally the tree wouldn’t run very much by itself, yet the weather is warm enough to run, by creating that negative pressure you’re essentially lying to the tree telling it it’s a beautiful sunny day and letting the sap come out.”

(Zind) The technology has also allowed sugar makers to tap trees in more rugged terrain than would have been possible in the past. Marsh says the biggest challenge for sugar makers is to make sure demand keeps up with increased production.

He says the overseas market for Vermont Maple Syrup is growing, along with Internet sales. But, he says, Vermont sugar makers need to improve their marketing efforts, especially as they try to compete with Canada – the world’s largest maple syrup producer.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind.

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