For Immediate Release - March 02, 2012

Commonwealth Agriculture Officials Kick Off Maple Month

WILLIAMSBURG – Friday, March 2, 2012 – Department of Agricultural Resources (DAR) Commissioner Scott J. Soares today announced the start of the Massachusetts maple sugaring season and marked the occasion by participating in the ceremonial tapping of a sugar maple tree at Paul's Sugarhouse in Williamsburg.

Heralding the onset of the growing season, maple sugaring is the state’s first agricultural harvest of the year.

“Maple sugaring represents one of the many diverse facets of Massachusetts agriculture,” said Commissioner Soares. “Visiting Massachusetts local sugar shacks is a great agri-tourism activity that the whole family can savor.”

In addition to tapping a maple tree, Commissioner Soares also read a proclamation declaring March as “Massachusetts Maple Month.”

"We’re looking forward to a great season. Some maple producers are already tapping, the earliest in 40 years,” said Ed Parker, president of the Massachusetts Maple Producers Association (MMPA). “Taps typically last about a month so it's a gamble to know when to start. We can’t know in advance how long the sap will run, but Massachusetts sugar makers are ready for the tradition of making the state’s sweetest crop.” 

In 2011, maple producers statewide produced 62,000 gallons of maple sugar, more than twice as much the year before when production was about 29,000 gallons. Last year also saw one of the longest production seasons in recent past with a season length of 31 days of cooperative weather – compared to 23 days in 2010.

Massachusetts boasts more than 300 maple producers, who annually produce about 50,000 to 60,000 gallons of maple syrup worth almost $3 million. Also, approximately $1.9 million in revenue is generated by tourism during the sugaring season at maple farms, restaurants, bed-and-breakfasts, country inns, and other attractions in farm communities.

Recently, the MMPA has sought new ways to both enhance its outreach to promote maple sugar products as well as implement energy efficiency and renewable energy upgrades to their operations. The MMPA was the recipient of a $6,000 USDA Specialty Crops grant, administered by DAR, which supported the placement of print ads with ‘Buy Local’ groups in the state and radio ads with a local station to encourage website visits and on farm purchases.

In fiscal year 2012, DAR awarded $55,920 in AgEnergy grants to six maple producers throughout Massachusetts, including Paul Zononi, owner of Paul's Sugarhouse.

"Sugaring has changed a lot since the early 1970s,” said Zononi. “There are no more twelve-hour shifts with our new reverse osmosis equipment, and our electrical bill has been cut in half. The new equipment is expensive but the payback will come in four years or less when the savings in labor and wood is added up."

Energy efficient production methods include reverse osmosis equipment to remove some water from the sap prior to heating, pre-heaters and efficient evaporators. Maple producers are working to reduce energy consumption and minimize carbon footprints while becoming more energy sustainable.

Many sugarhouses in Central and Western Massachusetts serve delicious pancake breakfasts; and sell maple products including maple syrup and maple candy and offer sugarhouse open houses and tours.

A listing of sugarhouses can be found by going to the MassGrown & Fresher website Google map and clicking on “maple” for a complete listing of sugarhouses and restaurants. Or visit www.massmaple.org to get more information from the Massachusetts Maple Producers Association.

The Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) is also hosting a variety of maple sugaring activities at DCR properties across the state in March. Please wear sturdy footwear and warm clothing for all maple sugaring programs. All events are free unless otherwise noted. Be aware that seasonal weather and storms affect parks and trails. All events, programs, and activities are subject to change, so please call ahead to confirm or visit http://www.mass.gov/dcr

DAR’s mission is to ensure the long-term viability of agriculture in Massachusetts. Through its four divisions – Agricultural Conservation & Technical Assistance, Agricultural Markets, Animal Health, and Crop and Pest Services – DAR strives to support, regulate and enhance the rich diversity of the Commonwealth’s agricultural community to promote economically and environmentally sound food safety and animal health measures, and fulfill agriculture’s role in energy conservation and production. For more information, visit DAR’s website at www.mass.gov/agr, and/or follow at  twitter.com/agcommishsoares.

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