2017-03-16 / Front Page

Maple Producers Prepare for Season

By Jacob A. Ball

Across the EUP, maple trees are being tapped for the upcoming syrup season. Some of the producers have yet to begin boiling down sap, the process used to make maple syrup and sugar, but at the newly renamed Michigan Maple Farms (formerly RMG Family Sugarbush) in Rudyard, warmer than usual weather in February produced a substantial amount of raw product. Last Wednesday, March 8, was especially fruitful.

“It was our best day so far, with the largest single production day we’ve ever had. Winter had held the [trees] back and they wanted to run,” Michigan Maple Farms owner Mike Ross said.

This year, Mr. Ross has finished installing a new monitoring system to track the lines on their trees using an Internet hookup. This will allow Michigan Maple Farms to know right away if there is a problem anywhere on the 22,000-tap maple farm. In the past, checking all the lines from the taps would take three days, but now crewmembers will be able to save substantial time. Mr. Ross said he would not know until the end of the season if this was to be a good harvest or not.

“I will not know until the end of the year, but I am not encouraged or discouraged” yet, Mr. Ross added.

The Rudyard area is also home to Besteman’s Maple Products and Postma Brothers Maple Syrup. In fact, all three operations are located within one mile of each other. Mark Besteman of Besteman’s Maple Syrup decided not to begin tapping his trees during the earlier warmup. As of Monday, March 13, however, he said that his crew was out enjoying the sunshine and installing taps. Besteman’s has approximately 10,000 to 11,000 maple trees on their property that they plan to harvest from this year. He is now hoping for two weeks to a month of good weather in the near future, but he added that it is all up to mother nature.

“As long as it doesn’t warm up, it should be a good season,” Mr. Besteman said.

Maple syrup must be harvested while the nights are still below freezing, and the days are only slightly above, with temperaturse in the 30s and 40s. Later into the spring as the weather warms up, the sap from the trees moves upward to nourish the buds, and once this happens, the sap mixes with enzymes in the buds, causing the sap to take on a bitter flavor. This natural process marks the end of the production season, so there is always a difficult guessing game involved in a producer’s decision of when to tap their trees. Typically prime weather is during the first two weeks of April, but every new season has the potential to be different from the last.

North of Cedarville, Tassier Sugarbush has already boiled three times this season, starting on about February 20. Owner Dan Tassier said that the weather can be unpredictable, and there is never such a thing as a normal season for the maple syrup harvest. This year, the operation is about two to three weeks ahead of schedule as the milder winter has changed the timeline for tapping the 4,600 trees on Tassier’s property. He hopes to be able to report a good season by the beginning of May.

Saturday, April 1, Michigan Maple Farms, Besteman’s, Postma Brothers, and Tassier Sugarbush will be participating in the Upper Peninsula Michigan Maple Weekend. They will all be holding open houses where visitors can meet the sugar makers, tour their facilities, and sample a wide assortment of maple products. Tassier in Cedarville and Michigan Maple Farms in Rudyard will also be open to the public Sunday, April 2. This will be an opportunity for anyone interested in how the process works to see it up close as the production season gets underway.

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