Once upon a time, creating maple syrup involved a lot of walking. Harvesters would trek through the forest, collecting metal buckets of precious sap to be laboriously boiled down into the stuff of tasty pancakes.
Thanks to a new discovery by Vermont researchers, this romantic but inefficient process may be a thing of the past.
The breakthrough, pioneered by Tim Perkins and Abby van den Berg, colleagues at the University of Vermont, involves using younger saplings instead of mature trees. The tops are removed and sap is suctioned out of upper part of the tree rather than the trunk.
Aside from boosting collection speed, this method will also allow farmers to grow the trees much closer together, in effect creating “syrup plantations,” rather than reliance on 35- to 40-year-old maple trees spread throughout a mature forest.
How do the numbers add up? Typically, maple syrup manufacturers can count on approximately 80 usable maple trees per hectare, but this new technique will densities up to 6,000 saplings per hectare, 10 times the density of conventional operations.
While maple syrup production has a long and traditional history, Perkins is quick to point out that modern businesses have already replaced pails with plastic tubing, and even a process of reverse osmosis replaces boiling to speed up sap reduction.
However, critics predict that the saplings will suffer from reduced lifespans, and the cost of replacement will ultimately prove the new technique unprofitable.