Greensboro, News, Walden

This Spring was “Best Ever Sugaring Season”

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Peter (left) and Sandy Gebbie of Maplehurst Farm in Greensboro had their best sugaring year ever in 2024 according to Peter. They tap roughly 7,000 trees at an altitude of roughly 2,000 feet on a sugarbush established in the 1850’s.

GREENSBORO, WALDEN – “We had our best season ever” reports Peter Gebbie of Maplehurst Farm in Greensboro. He attributes at least some of the successful year to having replaced half of the tubing serving his roughly 7,000 tap maple sugaring operation. “The new tubing helped with a good vacuum from the start of the season,” said Gebbie.

Allison Hope of the Vermont Maple Sugar Makers Association (VMSMA) reported that, “Many Vermont maple producers reported crops that were well above average; by the same token, some are reporting a less than average year. I spoke to a sugar maker in mid-April who brought in 50% of an average crop. Much of that is, of course, due to the location, temperature and micro climate of individual sugarbushes.”

Hardwick area sugarmakers seem to be reporting good years. Walden’s Shawn Messier of Mountainside Orchards, the Messier Family Sugarhouse and VMSMA’s Caledonia County Director said, “all of the local producers that I have spoken with had an above average or even a record season.

“For us here, we had a record season. This year we made 325 gallons more than we ever had in a season, and we did it with 700 fewer taps. Being able to get our tubing system relatively tight early on, made it easier for us to keep our vacuum levels up and keep the sap coming.”

Gebbie’s north-facing sugarbush is located high in the hills at an elevation of approximately 2,000 ft. The unique mix of elevation, soil, climate, and sunlight yields maple syrup that has proven for over a century to be light in color yet rich in maple flavor. The farm’s sugarbush produces over 2,000 gallons of syrup annually.

Gebbie said their vacuum system helps the sap run on cloudy and windy days when the sap doesn’t run as well on its own. That can be a big help in their higher and colder location.

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Shawn Messier of Mountainside Orchards, the Messier Family Sugarhouse and the Vermont Maple Sugar Makers Association Caledonia County Director says, “we had a record season,” making 325 more gallons with 700 fewer taps. He is a second generation sugarmaker, starting with his father in 1972.

“Established in the 1850’s, Gebbie’s Maplehurst Farm is an institution in Greensboro, VT. For five generations, the Gebbie family has worked hundreds of acres of Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom, producing pure Vermont maple products with the utmost of integrity,” says their website.

Messier is a second-generation sugarmaker. He began sugaring in the Hardwick area with his father in 1972. In 2019 the family poured a new foundation for their sugar house, and in 2020, they expanded the production house while also preserving much of the original beams and woodwork from the first building. He now has a heated space for the reverse osmosis (RO) system and a brand new roof. Sugaring has always been a family project for Shawn and his family and they welcome visitors.

Hope writes that, “Maple is similar to other businesses in that the costs associated with producing maple have increased, significantly in some areas, and the price of bulk or retail syrup has not risen at the same pace.

“Producers are feeling the squeeze . . . According to Farm Credit East’s 2024 Maple Industry Outlook, “when adjusted for inflation, the “real price” received for syrup has been declining over recent years. U.S. maple prices have not increased enough to compensate for inflation and maple producers are forced to operate with less revenue and tighter margins.”

Reverse osmosis is an important tool to reduce the time and expense of boiling sap. The Vermont Evaporator Company website notes, “Anyone who has ever made maple syrup in any context knows that it takes time and energy to do so. For professional maple syrup makers, time and energy are synonymous with money!

“Typically, basic reverse osmosis units for maple remove half of the water from maple sap. Maple sap is about 2% water when it comes out of the tree, and needs to be 67% to 69% sugar to be considered sellable maple syrup. When half of the water is taken away from sap with 2% sugar, it becomes concentrated sap with 4% sugar in it. A second pass through a basic reverse osmosis system can make that 4% sugar solution an 8% solution! While that is still far away from the 68% or so percent it needs to be to be considered syrup, one pass through RO cuts your time and energy needs in half, while two passes allow you to make the same amount of maple syrup in 1/4 the amount of time and with 1/4 of the energy.”

Messier said, “The sugar content of our sap seemed to stay in what I would consider to be our normal average, 1.6-2%, we just had higher volumes this year.    Whereas last year, our sugar content was higher than average for us, but the volume was way down.    Last year we made 838 gallons, this year we made 1914 gallons off 4,300 taps. “

Hope adds that, “Climate change has been shifting the maple season earlier in the year; one expert noted that the season has shifted by a month or more since the late-1800s in Vermont. And in general, the maple season here is getting compressed. Much of the technology and innovation in maple production can have positive impacts on tree health, operational efficiency, food safety and overall crop yield. In addition, it has helped producers mitigate the effects of climate change in their operations and allowed them to reduce inputs like labor and fuel related to maple production.”

As producers of maple products look to expand their businesses, some like the Messiers have added value-added products, including candies. Peter and Sandy Gebbie make maple cream along with their syrup.

Like many in agricultural businesses, the Gebbies are always looking for a way to get more out of their investment in buildings and equipment. Gebbie says he has the capacity to tap more trees if they were available.

Paul Fixx is editor of The Hardwick Gazette and lives in Hardwick.

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