September 22, 2013

Sap collection focus of workshop

Richard Gast

---- — The sap-collection and handling methods a maple producer chooses will greatly influence both the quality and quantity of syrup and, as a result, the amount of profit. With that in mind, several Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE) Associations across Northern New York are offering workshops to provide cost-effective guidelines for spout and dropline replacement procedures.

In Franklin County, the workshop will be from 5 to 8 p.m. Oct. 3 at Titus Mountain Ski Center, 215 Johnson Rd., Malone. The cost is $20, free for Franklin County Maple Association and New York State Maple Producers Association members. This includes a pizza supper. Registration is required by Oct. 1. Phone 483-7403 or email The 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 for the 2014 season.

Take a look at any supplier’s catalog and you’ll notice how much the maple industry has been advancing in recent years. Both large- and small-farm sugaring operations now use the most advanced technologies to produce syrup of exceptional flavor.

Sap collection is the first and, arguably, the most important step in maple production. Traditionally, trees were drilled and metal spouts, or spiles, were inserted. Metal sap buckets with angled metal lids were then hung from hooks on the spiles. Gravity-flow tubing and airtight vacuum 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. Other multi-stage filtration and pre-heating processes may also be used to concentrate the sugar percentage in sap to be boiled, and to remove sediment and impurities. These technologies substantially reduce the amount of time and energy used to make syrup.

The variety of tubing for both mainlines and droplines is now greater than ever. Studies conducted by Cornell University and the Proctor Maple Research Center at the University of Vermont (UVM) have shown that plastic tubing consistently produces higher yields of cleaner sap than bucket collection.

The assortment of spouts is also diverse, with modifications centered on reducing the amount of damage sustained by trees. One of the biggest changes in the past decade or so has been the introduction of smaller 5/16” spouts (vs. the traditional 7/16” spouts), often referred to as “health spouts.” Studies by both Cornell and UVM have shown that these smaller spouts will significantly reduce damage within the cross-sectional area of the tap hole while allowing the tree to heal 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 will occur with vacuum collection.

There are several styles of 5/16” spouts, 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 for modifying 7/16-inch spiles and tubing systems as well.

A few years ago, Leader Evaporator Co. Inc. brought a check-valve adaptor to market. The one-time-use adaptor was conceived and developed by Dr. Timothy Perkins at UVM’s research center. It is designed to reduce microbial contamination at the tap hole. Microbial contamination promotes premature tap-hole closure and reduces sap flow.

Lapierre Equipment now offers a 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, but the information that will be offered can help make sap collection and syrup production more rewarding and less labor-intensive. 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.

Richard L. Gast, Extension program educator II, Horticulture, Natural Resources, Energy; agriculture programs assistant, Cornell Cooperative Extension of Franklin County, 355 West Main St., Suite 150, Malone, 12953. Phone 483-7403, fax 483-6214, email