December 30, 2012

New maple association formed

Richard Gast

---- — When properly managed, private woodland can be a place for rest, retreat, recreation and spiritual renewal. It can also be a source of firewood and income from sales of firewood, as well as standing timber.

A growing number of northern New York landowners are looking at maple production as an income-generating opportunity as well. They view management for maple production as a long-term investment. Some look at it as a way to produce supplementary farm income. Some consider it a retirement opportunity. Others see it as a commitment to their children and grandchildren.

In Franklin County, a motivated and active group of forest landowners have come together to establish the Franklin County Maple (Producers) Association (FCMA). The new association promotes sugar production and stewardship of forests for the long-term benefit of current and future generations. Membership provides camaraderie in addition to knowledge and training for experienced producers, learners and those considering getting into syrup production. Members include syrup producers, landowners and members of the public.

For a newly established organization, the group has been remarkably active. They’ve been working closely with the Brushton Moira Central School (BMCS) Future Farmers of America (FFA) and Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE) of Franklin County with a close-knit core group of members from all three organizations meeting regularly. They have also received the support of the New York State Maple Producers Association and have had some interaction with the Northern Adirondack Chapter of the New York State Forest Owners Association.

In May of this year, the new association collaborated with CCE and BMCS FFA to provide a location for an extension-sponsored Woodlot and Sugarbush Management Workshop, which focused on tree assessment and low-impact harvesting. The program was conducted by state Extension Service Forester Peter Smallidge, with small-scale, low-impact equipment that a landowner can use to remove small numbers of logs without damaging standing trees, provided by extension and the Akwesasne Task Force on the Environment.

The workshop focused on thinning, harvesting, density, composition, growth, health and quality of a timber stand, initially covering some of the basic silviculture practices used for increasing timber yields or sap production and improving genetics, and how they apply to landowner goals, as well as some of the signs and symptoms of common insect pests and diseases. Participants were given scale sticks, which are used to measure tree diameter and the board-foot volume of standing trees, and then put to the task of deciding whether or not selected trees should remain within the stand or be removed.

Once that exercise was completed, directional felling techniques, including the use of plastic felling wedges, were discussed during a presentation by Smallidge. The presentation was followed by a demonstration of forwarding, using a low-impact ATV and logging arch.

One of my goals as a CCE natural resources outreach educator is to work with woodland owners and maple producers to help them learn the principles of small-scale woodlot harvesting and management. Extension believes that one of the best ways to facilitate learning is to provide workshops held on privately owned, non-industrial forest properties. I am extremely grateful to the FCMA and BMCS FFA for their help in making the well-attended workshop possible.

This past summer, with strong support from members of the Franklin County Agricultural Society, core FCMA members renovated a portion of one of the older vegetable exhibition halls at the Franklin County fairgrounds. The group worked together to keep the cost of the “sugar shack” project to a minimum, providing a large percentage of the building materials, and all the labor, themselves. The space was used to provide educational information about maple production to Franklin County Fair attendees.

Maple producers from across the county were represented in what proved to be a warm and welcoming environment for fair-goers to sample and purchase maple products. Leader Evaporator sweetened the deal by providing a wood-fired evaporator for the display.

That evaporator and all sorts of maple goodies were displayed at Franklin County CCE’s Third Annual Harvest Festival as well. Besides maple, the festival showcased fun and games, local produce, meats, specialty and prepared foods, music and clogging provided by area entertainers. Handmade jewelry, paintings, Adirondack baskets, dolls dressed in hand-woven and embellished clothing, photographs, home décor and much more were offered by local artisans.

In October, the Wild Center was granted more than $158,000 from the Northern Border Regional Commission (NBRC) to help fund its Northern New York Maple Project. That money will be matched by local funds, increasing the amount to $258,656. The NBRC was authorized in the 2008 Farm Bill to address community and economic-development needs within the region. In collaboration with the Cornell Sugar Maple Research and Extension Program and Paul Smiths College Visitors Interpretive Center, the maple project will use the funds to offer training to area producers to help them expand and market their products, and to promote maple agro-tourism sites at area sugarbushes.

Stephanie Ratcliffe, executive director for the Wild Center, has affirmed that tourists want authentic experiences when they visit the northern forest area. She said the project “really builds on the region’s natural assets” and that it “promotes sustainable economic development through a region-wide encouragement of micro enterprises.” Five thousand dollars of that grant funding has been allotted to FCMA to be used for advertising.

In 2013, BMCS FFA students will work with the association to bring the First Annual FCMA Maple School, Trade Show and Equipment Auction to Franklin County. The event, which is scheduled for Feb. 2 at the school, will offer classes about sap collection using plastic tubing and pipeline systems, sugarbush and forest management, making maple confections, licensing and marketing, stainless-steel welding and much more. There are classes planned for everyone from the most experienced producers to those considering getting into maple-syrup production.

During the upcoming sugar season, the association will also work with FFA students who will be harvesting sap from trees on property belonging to the school and an adjoining property owner. As in previous years, the syrup that the students produce will be used to raise funds for FFA operations. Much of it will be used at the fourth annual BMCS FFA pancake breakfast, which is held as part of the school’s Maple Weekend celebration.

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 or email