Area Producers Form New Maple Association in Franklin County, N.Y.

by Richard L. Gast
11/14/2012

When properly managed, private woodland can be a place for rest, retreat, recreation, and spiritual renewal. It can also be a source of firewood and income from sales of firewood, as well as standing timber.

A growing number of northern New York forest landowners are also looking at maple syrup production as an income-generating opportunity. They view management for maple sugar production as a long-term investment. Some look at it as a way to produce supplementary farm income. Some consider it a retirement opportunity. Others see it as a commitment to their children and grandchildren.

In Franklin County, an extremely motivated and active group of forest landowners has established the Franklin County Maple (Producers) Association (FCMA). The new maple association promotes sugar production and stewardship of private forests for the long-term benefit of current and future generations. Membership in the association provides camaraderie in addition to knowledge and training for experienced producers, learners and those considering getting into syrup production. Members include syrup producers, landowners, and members of the concerned public.

For a newly established organization, the group has been remarkably active. They've been working closely with and receiving support and assistance from the Brushton-Moira Central School (BMCS) Future Farmers of America (FFA) and Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE) of Franklin County, with a close-knit core group of members from all three organizations meeting regularly. They have also received the support of the New York State Maple Producers Association and had some interaction with the Northern Adirondack Chapter (NAC) of the New York Forest Owners Association (NYFOA).

In May of this year, FCMA collaborated with CCE and BMCS FFA to provide a location for an extension-sponsored Woodlot and Sugarbush Management Workshop, which focused on crop tree assessment and low-impact harvesting. The program was conducted by state extension service forester Peter Smallidge, with small-scale, low-impact equipment that a typical landowner can use to remove small numbers of logs from the forest without damaging standing trees provided by extension and the Akwesasne Task Force on the Environment.

The workshop focused on thinning and harvesting to control the stock, density, composition, growth, health, and overall quality of a forest timber stand. It covered some of the basic silviculture practices used for increasing timber yields and/or sap and sugar production and improving genetics within a stand (and how they apply to landowner goals), as well as some of the signs and symptoms of common insect pests and diseases. Workshop participants were given scale sticks, which are used to measure tree diameter and the board-foot volume of standing trees, and put to the task of deciding whether or not selected trees, which had been marked by flagging ribbon, should remain within the stand or be selected for removal.

Once that exercise was completed, directional felling techniques, including the use of plastic felling wedges to help control the direction of a tree's fall, were discussed at length, during a step-by-step directional felling presentation provided by Smallidge, which clearly demonstrated the mechanical advantage felling with wedges offers in directing the fall of a tree. The felling presentation was followed by a demonstration of forwarding, using a low-impact ATV and logging arch.

One of my goals as a CCE natural resources outreach educator is to work with woodland owners and maple producers to help them learn the basic principles of small-scale woodlot harvesting and management. Extension believes that one of the best ways to facilitate learning about conservation planning and sustainable forest stewardship strategies and practices that maximize productive use of forest natural resources is to provide workshops held on privately owned, nonindustrial forest properties and made available to landowners and the public. I am extremely grateful to the FCMA and BMCS FFA for their help in making the workshop, which was well-attended, possible.

This past summer, with strong support from members of the Franklin County Agricultural Society, who recognize the role of the maple syrup industry in Franklin County agriculture and its importance to Franklin County farm and other North Country families for generations, core FCMA members renovated a portion of one of the older vegetable exhibition halls at the Franklin County fairgrounds. The group worked together to keep the cost of the sugar shack project to a minimum, providing a large percentage of the lumber and building materials, and all of the labor, themselves. The space was used to provide educational information about maple syrup production in Franklin County and northern New York to Franklin County Fair attendees. Maple producers from across the county were represented in what proved to be a warm and welcoming environment and a convenient location for fairgoers to sample and purchase high-quality maple syrup, maple cream, and a variety of other maple confections. The general consensus was that FCMA had done a great job of promoting the industry. Leader Evaporator sweetened the deal by providing an oil-fired evaporator for the display.

That evaporator and all sorts of maple goodies were displayed at Franklin County CCE's Third Annual Harvest Festival as well. Besides maple, the festival showcased fun and games, local produce, meats, specialty and prepared foods, and music and clogging provided by area entertainers. Handmade jewelry, paintings, Adirondack baskets, dolls dressed in handwoven and embellished clothing, photographs, home decor, and much more were offered by local artisans. FCMA maple products were a big hit.

In October, the Wild Center, a science-based nonprofit organization whose award-winning natural history museum is located in Tupper Lake, N.Y., was granted more than $158,000 from the Northern Border Regional Commission (NBRC) to help fund its Northern New York Maple Project. That grant money will be matched by local funds, increasing the total project amount to $258,656. The NBRC was authorized in the 2008 Farm Bill to address community and economic development needs within the region. In collaboration with the Cornell Sugar Maple Research & Extension Program and Paul Smith's College Visitor Interpretive Center, the maple project will use the funds to offer training to area maple producers to help them expand and market their products, and to promote maple agritourism sites at area sugar bushes and sugar houses--locations where visitors will be able to observe sap collection and syrup being made. Stephanie Ratcliffe, executive director for the Wild Center, has affirmed that "tourists want authentic experiences when they visit the northern forest area." She said that the project "really builds on the region's natural assets" and that it "promotes sustainable economic development through a region-wide encouragement of micro enterprises." Of that grant funding, $5,000 has been allotted to the Franklin County Maple Association to be used for promotional advertising.

In 2013, BMCS FFA students will work with the association to bring the First Annual FCMA Maple School, Trade Show and Equipment Auction to Franklin County. The event, which is scheduled for February 2 at the school, will offer classes about sap collection using plastic tubing and pipeline systems, sugar bush and forest management, making maple confections, licensing and marketing, stainless steel welding, and more. There are classes planned for everyone, from the most experienced producers to those considering getting into maple syrup production.

During the upcoming sugar season, the association will also work with FFA students who will be harvesting sap from trees on property belonging to the school and to an adjoining property owner. As in previous years, the syrup that the students produce will be used to raise funds for FFA operations. Much of it will be used at the Fourth Annual BMCS FFA pancake breakfast, which is held as part of the school's Maple Weekend celebration.

Richard L. Gast
Extension Program Educator II
  - Horticulture, Natural Resources, Energy
Agriculture Programs Assistant
Cornell Cooperative Extension of Franklin County