Massachusetts Environmental Officials Kick Off Maple Month
WORTHINGTON – Monday, March 4, 2013 – Massachusetts Energy and Environmental Affairs Undersecretary Philip Griffiths today joined Department of Agricultural Resources (DAR) Commissioner Gregory C. Watson and local officials at the Red Bucket Sugar Shack to kick off the Massachusetts maple season with a ceremonial maple tree tapping.
“Maple syrup production is very important to the Massachusetts agriculture economy,” said Undersecretary Griffiths. “In addition, the industry preserves more than 13,000 acres of land, helping keep Massachusetts green across the board.”
The Commonwealth is home to more than 300 maple syrup producers, who produce 50,000 to 60,000 gallons of maple syrup annually--worth nearly $3 million. Agricultural tourism associated with maple syrup production is worth almost as much as the syrup itself. Approximately $1.9 million in revenue is generated by maple farms, restaurants, bed and breakfasts, country inns, and other attractions in farm communities.
”Here in New England, our growing seasons are short and our winters are long,” said Commissioner Watson. “Maple syrup production extends our season and helps to supplement the income of many dairy farms and growers in the Commonwealth.”
Maple season signals the beginning of spring and the start of the growing season in Massachusetts. Maple syrup is the first agricultural product of the year. Although this event signals the official start of the maple season, some producers started tapping weeks ago.
“Generations ago, sugaring season would always start in March,” said Ed Parker, President, and Massachusetts Maple Producers Association. “Today, producers have to be more aware of the weather. I’ve been tapping for 30 years and we are seeing the season generally start a week earlier. While we’ve certainly had a more favorable winter this year, everything depends on the weather in March.”
Maple sugaring is highly dependent on the weather. Nights must be below freezing and days must be above freezing for the sap to flow. In 2012, approximately 40,000 gallons of maple syrup were produced, compared to 62,000 in 2011.
Everything from the weather, soil, and genetics of the tree can affect maple syrup flavor. Therefore, like wine, maple syrup can have different terroir, or the flavor of a region.
Maple syrup is an inherently sustainable agricultural product. Healthy, well maintained trees can be tapped for over 100 years. But producers are looking into ways to make the business even greener. Reverse osmosis equipment, which eliminates water from the sap and reduces boiling time and fuel consumption, is being implemented more frequently. Many sugar shacks are installing solar panels.
In 2012, DAR awarded $55,920 in AgEnergy grants to six Massachusetts maple producers to help offset the costs of updated, environmentally friendly equipment. Thanks to this equipment; including pre-heaters, efficient evaporators, and reverse osmosis equipment, some producers have cut their energy bills in half. This means lower long-term costs to producers and lower carbon footprint and environmental impact.
“I think there is a difference in mineral content and flavor, and people should visit different sugar shacks and try different syrups,” said Parker. “Of course, Massachusetts maple syrup tastes the best.”
Visit your local sugarhouse and decide for yourself. Many producers serve pancakes to accompany fresh maple syrup as well as a variety of maple products. Go to the Mass Grown and Fresher google map www.mass.gov/massgrown and click on maple for a complete listing of farms, sugarhouses, and restaurants. Or visit www.massmaple.org and call the Massachusetts Maple Association at (413) 628-3912. Plan your visit today!
DAR’s mission is to ensure the long-term viability of agriculture in Massachusetts. Through its four divisions – Agricultural Conservation and 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 in order 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 follow us on twitter at @MDARCommish and @massgrown.