Sweet idea: Could Maine lead the world in maple syrup making?

Posted March 18, 2014, at 12:16 p.m.
Lee Kinney poses with his sap boiler at Kinney's Sugarhouse in Knox on Monday. Single digit temps kept him from boiling as all sap lines were frozen. Gov. Paul LePage believes that Maine's maple syrup industry could become a national leader. &quotWe have the trees and the resources. It's a matter of getting more people involved in the industry." said LePage earlier this month.
Lee Kinney poses with his sap boiler at Kinney's Sugarhouse in Knox on Monday. Single digit temps kept him from boiling as all sap lines were frozen. Gov. Paul LePage believes that Maine's maple syrup industry could become a national leader. "We have the trees and the resources. It's a matter of getting more people involved in the industry." said LePage earlier this month. Buy Photo
Lee Kinney poses with his sap boiler at Kinney's Sugarhouse in Knox on Monday. Single digit temps kept him from boiling as all sap lines were frozen. Gov. Paul LePage believes that Maine's maple syrup industry could become a national leader. &quotWe have the trees and the resources. It's a matter of getting more people involved in the industry," LePage said earlier this month.
Lee Kinney poses with his sap boiler at Kinney's Sugarhouse in Knox on Monday. Single digit temps kept him from boiling as all sap lines were frozen. Gov. Paul LePage believes that Maine's maple syrup industry could become a national leader. "We have the trees and the resources. It's a matter of getting more people involved in the industry," LePage said earlier this month. Buy Photo
Lee Kinney poses with part of his 185 acre sugarbush at Kinney's Sugarhouse in Knox on Monday. Gov. Paul LePage believes that Maine's maple syrup industry could become a national leader. &quotWe have the trees and the resources. It's a matter of getting more people involved in the industry," LePage said earlier this month.
Lee Kinney poses with part of his 185 acre sugarbush at Kinney's Sugarhouse in Knox on Monday. Gov. Paul LePage believes that Maine's maple syrup industry could become a national leader. "We have the trees and the resources. It's a matter of getting more people involved in the industry," LePage said earlier this month. Buy Photo
Lee Kinney poses with his sap boiler at Kinney's Sugarhouse in Knox on Monday. Single-digit temps kept him from boiling as all sap lines were frozen. Gov. Paul LePage believes that Maine's maple syrup industry could become a national leader. &quotWe have the trees and the resources. It's a matter of getting more people involved in the industry," said LePage earlier this month.
Lee Kinney poses with his sap boiler at Kinney's Sugarhouse in Knox on Monday. Single-digit temps kept him from boiling as all sap lines were frozen. Gov. Paul LePage believes that Maine's maple syrup industry could become a national leader. "We have the trees and the resources. It's a matter of getting more people involved in the industry," said LePage earlier this month. Buy Photo
Maple syrup sits in buckets at Kinney's Sugarhouse in Knox on Monday. The syrup is used to start the next batch. Single-digit temps kept the sugarhouse silent on Monday as all sap lines were frozen. Gov. Paul LePage believes that Maine's maple syrup industry could become a national leader. &quotWe have the trees and the resources. It's a matter of getting more people involved in the industry," said LePage earlier this month.
Maple syrup sits in buckets at Kinney's Sugarhouse in Knox on Monday. The syrup is used to start the next batch. Single-digit temps kept the sugarhouse silent on Monday as all sap lines were frozen. Gov. Paul LePage believes that Maine's maple syrup industry could become a national leader. "We have the trees and the resources. It's a matter of getting more people involved in the industry," said LePage earlier this month. Buy Photo
Maple sugar in different forms fill the shelves at Kinney's Sugarhouse in Knox on Monday. Single-digit temps kept the sugarhouse silent on Monday as all sap lines were frozen. Gov. Paul LePage believes that Maine's maple syrup industry could become a national leader. &quotWe have the trees and the resources. It's a matter of getting more people involved in the industry," said LePage earlier this month.
Maple sugar in different forms fill the shelves at Kinney's Sugarhouse in Knox on Monday. Single-digit temps kept the sugarhouse silent on Monday as all sap lines were frozen. Gov. Paul LePage believes that Maine's maple syrup industry could become a national leader. "We have the trees and the resources. It's a matter of getting more people involved in the industry," said LePage earlier this month. Buy Photo
Some of the over 70 miles of tubing come together at a Maple tree Maple sugar at Kinney's Sugarhouse in Knox on Monday. Single digit temps kept the sugarhouse silent on Monday as all sap lines were frozen. Gov. Paul LePage believes that Maine's maple syrup industry could become a national leader. &quotWe have the trees and the resources. It's a matter of getting more people involved in the industry," said LePage earlier this month.
Some of the over 70 miles of tubing come together at a Maple tree Maple sugar at Kinney's Sugarhouse in Knox on Monday. Single digit temps kept the sugarhouse silent on Monday as all sap lines were frozen. Gov. Paul LePage believes that Maine's maple syrup industry could become a national leader. "We have the trees and the resources. It's a matter of getting more people involved in the industry," said LePage earlier this month. Buy Photo
 Some of the over 70 miles of tubing supply sap to Kinney's Sugarhouse in Knox on Monday. Single digit temps kept the sugarhouse silent on Monday as all sap lines were frozen. Gov. Paul LePage believes that Maine's maple syrup industry could become a national leader. &quotWe have the trees and the resources. It's a matter of getting more people involved in the industry," said LePage earlier this month.
Some of the over 70 miles of tubing supply sap to Kinney's Sugarhouse in Knox on Monday. Single digit temps kept the sugarhouse silent on Monday as all sap lines were frozen. Gov. Paul LePage believes that Maine's maple syrup industry could become a national leader. "We have the trees and the resources. It's a matter of getting more people involved in the industry," said LePage earlier this month. Buy Photo
70 miles of tubing criss-cross the sugarbush at Kinney's Sugarhouse in Knox on Monday. Single digit temps kept the sugarhouse silent on Monday as all sap lines were frozen. Gov. Paul LePage believes that Maine's maple syrup industry could become a national leader. &quotWe have the trees and the resources. It's a matter of getting more people involved in the industry," said LePage earlier this month.
70 miles of tubing criss-cross the sugarbush at Kinney's Sugarhouse in Knox on Monday. Single digit temps kept the sugarhouse silent on Monday as all sap lines were frozen. Gov. Paul LePage believes that Maine's maple syrup industry could become a national leader. "We have the trees and the resources. It's a matter of getting more people involved in the industry," said LePage earlier this month. Buy Photo
Paul Poulin fills bottles with maple sugar at Kinney's Sugarhouse in Knox on Monday. Single digit temps kept the sugarhouse silent on Monday as all sap lines were frozen. Gov. Paul LePage believes that Maine's maple syrup industry could become a national leader. &quotWe have the trees and the resources. It's a matter of getting more people involved in the industry," said LePage earlier this month.
Paul Poulin fills bottles with maple sugar at Kinney's Sugarhouse in Knox on Monday. Single digit temps kept the sugarhouse silent on Monday as all sap lines were frozen. Gov. Paul LePage believes that Maine's maple syrup industry could become a national leader. "We have the trees and the resources. It's a matter of getting more people involved in the industry," said LePage earlier this month. Buy Photo
Maple syrup in glass bottles is offered for sale at Kinney's Sugarhouse in Knox on Monday.  Gov. Paul LePage believes that Maine's maple syrup industry could become a national leader. &quotWe have the trees and the resources. It's a matter of getting more people involved in the industry," said LePage earlier this month.
Kevin Bennett
Maple syrup in glass bottles is offered for sale at Kinney's Sugarhouse in Knox on Monday. Gov. Paul LePage believes that Maine's maple syrup industry could become a national leader. "We have the trees and the resources. It's a matter of getting more people involved in the industry," said LePage earlier this month. Buy Photo
Paul Poulin, left, and his brother, Richard, pack molded maple candies to get ready for sale Friday afternoon at Kinney's Sugarhouse on the Abbott Road in Knox. Workers at the large maple products operation are doing other tasks while waiting for the sap to start flowing from the trees.
Abigail Curtis | BDN staff
Paul Poulin, left, and his brother, Richard, pack molded maple candies to get ready for sale Friday afternoon at Kinney's Sugarhouse on the Abbott Road in Knox. Workers at the large maple products operation are doing other tasks while waiting for the sap to start flowing from the trees. Buy Photo
 Making maple candy, like this batch of sweet maple leafs at Kinney's Sugarhouse in Knox, is one way maple producers add value to maple syrup.
Abigail Curtis | BDN staff
Making maple candy, like this batch of sweet maple leafs at Kinney's Sugarhouse in Knox, is one way maple producers add value to maple syrup. Buy Photo
Lee Kinney of Kinney's Sugarhouse stands next to some of the 70 miles of plastic tubing that run across his property, carrying sap from the trees to the sugar house at the bottom of the hill. He said that animals chew tubes constantly, and that when the sap is running, he likes to have people working in the woods and monitoring for leaks, so that the flow to the sugar house will not be impeded.
Abigail Curtis | BDN staff
Lee Kinney of Kinney's Sugarhouse stands next to some of the 70 miles of plastic tubing that run across his property, carrying sap from the trees to the sugar house at the bottom of the hill. He said that animals chew tubes constantly, and that when the sap is running, he likes to have people working in the woods and monitoring for leaks, so that the flow to the sugar house will not be impeded. Buy Photo
Containers of maple syrup shine in the sun Friday afternoon at Kinney's Sugarhouse in Knox. The maple syrup crew were busy getting ready for the sap to start flowing and also for the crowds expected to come in for Maine Maple Sunday, scheduled for Sunday, March 23.
Abigail Curtis | BDN staff
Containers of maple syrup shine in the sun Friday afternoon at Kinney's Sugarhouse in Knox. The maple syrup crew were busy getting ready for the sap to start flowing and also for the crowds expected to come in for Maine Maple Sunday, scheduled for Sunday, March 23. Buy Photo

KNOX, Maine — Could the Pine Tree State become the sugar maple state?

Some state officials, tribal leaders and maple syrup producers say the answer is yes, but that it will take a lot of work and a lot of planning to sweeten Maine’s syrup industry so it becomes the national leader that Gov. Paul LePage believes it could be.

“He’s right, in a way,” Kathryn Hopkins, a maple products specialist with the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, said Friday morning. “We have the trees. If we decide to get organized, get more young people and develop the market … Maine could do anything it wants.”


Sunday, March 23, 2014  is Maine Maple Sunday. Looking for a sugar house near you? The Maine Maple Producers Association has a handy directory.


Last year, Maine’s licensed producers boiled millions of gallons of clear sap into 450,000 gallons of syrup. That product is worth $24 million, and is enough to place the state third in the country in syrup production behind Vermont and New York. Vermont maple harvesters produced 1.3 million gallons, making it the dominant leader in the United States.

According to Hopkins, the industry already has been growing in Maine in recent years. Three years ago, there were just 380 or so licensed maple producers, but in January, there were 452. She said that lots of factors may contribute to the rise in interest, including the local, natural and organic food movements and the recent fall from grace of high-fructose corn syrup.

Kevin Brannen of Spring Break Maple and Honey of Smyrna, the vice president of the Maine Maple Producers Association, said that Maine already is a national leader in syrup production, and often trades places with New York for second place. He said that while Maine has the maple trees, access to those trees is not easy, because a lot of the state’s northern tier is held by large landowners. Another question on his mind is how the $20 million set aside for maple expansion in the new national Farm Bill will be distributed.

“Hopefully that will help to develop more farms in the state and more sugar bushes,” he said. “It’s an exciting time to be in the maple business. There’s a lot of technological advances. It’s just a fun time to be in it. There’s a lot of innovation and a lot of networking going on to get more sap per tap.”

Hopkins said there’s lots of room to grow the maple market, with North Americans eating, on average, just 3 ounces of maple syrup per person annually. In contrast, the average American consumed about 35.7 pounds of high-fructose corn syrup a year, according to a 2009 report from the Illinois Farm Bureau.

Maine needs to make sure there’s a good marketing strategy in place to find customers for the state’s maple syrup, before trying to hugely expand its production, Hopkins said. Right now, the state promotes maple syrup through the “Get Real Maine” marketing program that supports all Maine-produced commodities such as potatoes, blueberries and local cheese. But more could be done, she said.

“Vermont’s been marketing syrup forever. You say maple syrup, you think Vermont,” Hopkins said. “Developing maple for the state of Maine, that it has as much recognition value as lobsters and blueberries or potatoes, you don’t do that in a weekend.”

Tribal values

Passamaquoddy Chief Joseph Socobasin said Friday that he has marketing on the mind as his tribe starts a major new maple syrup venture they hope will lead to jobs and some revenue. After receiving a $1.5 million grant last year through the federal Administration for Native Americans to tap trees on a large swath of land the tribe owns in western Maine, they have hit the ground running, he said.

This year, the tribe expects to place 4,000 taps, with the eventual potential for 80,000 taps on the 60,000 acres they own in the Jackman area. They’ve also purchased a reverse osmosis machine that will take much of the water out of the sap right away, so that it will take less time and fuel to boil into maple syrup.

“The plan down the road for us is to start bottling and marketing our own maple syrup,” Socobasin said. “Once we’re a couple years into this and we’re producing enough, we’d like to go to L.L. Bean and places like that. We have blueberries, maple syrup, maybe a pancake mix — we could sell it as a gift pack in a tribally made basket.”

He said that the tribe is hoping to get its sugar bush organically certified this week.

“It would go hand in hand with Passamaquoddy values, trying to do everything as organic as possible,” he said.

Penobscot Nation Rep. Wayne Mitchell said that his tribe also owns a lot of land with a lot of sugar maples on it, and that he feels it’s very positive that LePage has been working with the tribes to increase their maple syrup production. It’s likely that the Penobscots would tap more of their trees and run more plastic tubing through the forests to collect the sap, and then sell the raw product to a sugar house, he said.

“It would be a good venture to get into. Anything we could do to make the economy better and make jobs, we’re going to try,” Mitchell said. “We’re one of the 10 largest landowners. It’s natural to ask us to participate, and of course we’re more than willing to be a part of it. I love maple syrup — and we’re the ones who taught the Europeans what it was, along with a lot of other things.”

‘Keeping my fingers crossed’

Mary Anne Kinney, of Kinney’s Sugarhouse in Knox, said that the global market is rising for maple syrup, which has led to higher prices recently.

“They’re finding out what it is,” she said. “It’s an exclusive product to North America. When people visit family and friends in other countries, they take it with them. It’s something they just don’t have.”

Her family is banking on maple syrup’s continued popularity. They made just over 3,000 gallons of syrup last year, using 9,000 taps and modern equipment that includes 70 miles of tubing that runs through the wooded hillsides of her Waldo County town. The tubing system is on a vacuum, which means that the tree will still release its sap on high-pressure days, and the evaporator used to cook down the sap is stainless steel. The equipment needed to produce high-quality maple syrup on that kind of scale is not cheap, she said.

“An operation our size, to get started is a minimum of $100,000,” Kinney said.

One fairly new producer with a smaller business is Josh Knipping of Back Ridge Sugar House in Winterport. He said that he runs about 500 taps in his operation, which the boat technician said doubles as his retirement plan. Last year, his first time participating in Maine Maple Sunday, he had at least 200 people who came through to taste the wares and watch the wood-fired evaporator at work. This year, he just hopes that the sap will start running soon enough to have some syrup at hand for the visitors he expects will come through his sugar house this Sunday.

“That’s on everybody’s mind right now,” he said. “This time of year, when things haven’t started and things are still this cold, we could have three days. We could have a week or two weeks. We just don’t know. I’m keeping my fingers crossed.”

Producers might be antsy because it’s been too cold for the maple sap to start flowing freely, but experts like Hopkins said that things are right on track.

“I think this season will be good,” she said. “We had a nice wet fall, and a good winter, so the trees are well-hydrated. Unless we have a sudden warm-up, going from 10 degrees to 80 degrees, we are not that late yet. March is the normal tapping time.”

 

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