St Croix River Road Ramblings

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Friday, January 22, 2010

Winter Meeting of the Wisconsin Maple Syrup Producers Association

Last Saturday we got up at 4 am to drive to Neillsville Wisconsin to the winter meeting of the Wisconsin Maple Syrup Producers Association (WMSPA ). Attendance was 120 this year. The meeting is really for producers who do maple syruping as a business rather than hobbyists. This year there were three morning speakers and then afternoon roundtable sessions with the speakers to get more information. Many vendors of syrup producing equipment and supplies had nice displays with the emphasis on tapping trees using plastic tubing, vacuum pumps, power filters, and evaporators; the automation of the process, so a drip of sap gets pulled from the tree to the bottle in a matter of a few hours, untouched by human hands!

Brenda Heinen, from the U.S. Department of Agriculture talked about the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) federal grants and loans available to improve our energy efficiency. If you earn half of your income from farming, or have a business in a rural area or in a city under 50,000 people, you can apply for money for to improve your energy efficiency or replace fossil fuels with renewable sources. Maple producers, who use a lot of energy cooking sap to syrup, can apply for more efficient sap evaporators, reverse osmosis sap filters or windmill or solar power generation to provide electricity for the business. Much of the money in previous went to Iowa and Nebraska farmers replacing corn dryers with newer more efficient ones. You can get a grant for 25% of the cost or a guaranteed loan for 75%. There are people in the Stevens Point USDA office to help fill out the forms. For more information on REAP .

Another program has money to help is Value Added Producer Grants (VAPG). Farm examples included fruit to wine, trees to lumber, milk to cheese, and sap to syrup. Planning grants to $100,000 and matching grants to $300,000 for capital projects are available. Brenda encouraged people to call the office and see if their projects would qualify. For more information on VAPG .

A speaker from the Wisconsin branch of the National Agriculture Statistics Service (NASS) gave us production numbers for maple syrup in Wisconsin for the last two years and selling prices. Production for the 2009 season was about double the previous two years. Wisconsin retail prices were much lower than most eastern states with the average price of a pint at $7.40 as compared to $11 in CT and $9.65 in VT.

I talked to several producers who were expanding their tapping this year because the syrup price went up significantly since 2007 and continues higher now. We were encouraged to report our production figures so Wisconsin, now 4th largest producing state, will have correct numbers. Some producers are resistant to reporting for fear of government interference. Many smaller producers are not surveyed, so the real production in Wisconsin is higher than the statistics show. I talked to one producer with 900 taps who stated “it is none of the state’s business what I do.” The maple statistics are located at on the internet Here

The third speaker was also from the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture Trade and Consumer Protection (WDATCP) . She went through the regulations for making and selling maple syrup in Wisconsin. Producers who make syrup and sell all of it retail (at your own business, home, stand, farmer’s market, etc), are not required to have a license and are not inspected. They are expected to follow the rules to make safe and good quality syrup. They are not allowed to sell their syrup to others to sell at retail. If you sell sap you do not need to be licensed or inspected, but are expected to produce a clean safe product. Since syrup is intensively processed by boiling for long periods of time and since pure maple syrup (66% sugar) has no dangerous molds or spoilage, syrup is considered inherently safe!

If you produce syrup to be sold by others you must be licensed and inspected yearly. That is somewhat like the Grade A milk house standards. If you bottle the syrup for wholesale your bottling facility must be a separate room and meet another set of regulations.

These standards have been in effect for over 20 years, but large retailers have continued to buy from unlicensed small producers. I think that will continue, as these are treated as guidelines rather than enforced rules.

One of the audience members emphasized making good clean syrup under sanitary conditions. She told about a customer who said “I’m never going to buy syrup at a farmer’s market again. I saw pictures of the maple woods with old Kitty Litter pails hanging from the trees. Yuk!”

Margo, our son Scott, and I attended the winter meeting. We have been attending for many years. It was the first time for Scott, our chauffer, who thought that we were really too small of a business to be interested in government grants, licensing and such. With the economy still sour, and maple syrup prices sweet, syruping looks good.

We met some other local syrupers at the meeting. Al and Linda from Hustad's Syrup from the Cumberland. He buys sap directly from producers and supplies tapping equipment to them for the season. He has a large processing plant and a retail outlet.

Steve, of Anderson Maple near Cumberland was there with a display of maple equipment for sale. He says he is opening his business on weekends now and is ready for the season with lots of supplies on hand. He decided not to do his open house this year, so stop in early and get your supplies before the busy season gets underway. He has an online catalog.

Duane and Lynn from Frederic will be buying sap again this year and tapping their own trees. They have a licensed syrup producing facility. Last year was the best year Duane can remember for syrup production per tap at 2 quarts. A few of us old timers remember 1977, probably the best year ever in NW Wisconsin, but don’t have numbers to make a good comparison. The Hanson’s had so much sap that ran so many days in 1977 that we never collected more than about 1/3 of the pails that year as we couldn’t keep up. That happened to Steve’s dad too.

Rodney and Jackie from Clam Falls attended their first winter meeting. They began tapping just last year, starting big with 300 taps. They enjoyed making syrup and plan to continue. We talked about how you turn a hobby into a small business. Doing syruping as a small business requires some additional tax paper work, but lets you deduct that new tractor you need to collect sap and allows you to change your woods from high regular property taxes to low agricultural tax rates. The rule of thumb is that 20 taps per acre qualify it for ag status, potentially dropping your property taxes to 10-20% of the non-ag rate.

Sadly, there was no queen candidate for this year. The Wisconsin Maple Syrup Queen is elected each year and spends time at places like the State Fair, First Tapping, and other statewide events. The candidates are generally from families involved in making syrup. It appears that we have to sweeten the pot to get candidates.

If you want to try making maple syrup, you first need to find a maple tree. Any tree in the maple family from boxelder, red maple to sugar maple will work. In a normal year, each one-half inch diameter hole, 2 inches deep into the tree will produce ten gallons of sap that will cook down to a quart of syrup. You will need a spile or tap, a tapered tube you tap into the hole that collects the sap into a food grade jug or pail (not catfood grade!). During the mid March to mid-April season, most days will have little sap, and a few days will run over even a 5 gallon bucket. The sap has to be boiled and boiled and boiled, 35-40 gallons down to one gallon. Doing it in the house is just not a good idea unless you wanted to have your wall paper fall off from the steam! One of my neighbors used a gas grill and was proud that he made a gallon of syrup with only two $20 tanks from a single tree with four taps.

After your first year, you spend the winter thinking about a better cooker and pan and where you can find more maples. The next year your improve your cooker and soon you need a roof and walls around it and you are hooked for good!


Wisconsin Department Ag speaker

Maple syrup processing is a seasonal activity that occurs in early spring between March and April and may last anywhere from several days to several weeks. The environment at some of the operations can be very rustic and operations may be remotely located.

Due to the temporary duration and sometimes remote locations of this type of food processing activity, it is recommended that the inspector use reasonable discretion and sound professional judgment when addressing food safety concerns regarding issues such as sanitary reclaim of water, temporary hand wash stations and plumbing requirements.

The MAPLE SYRUP OPERATION CHECKLIST (F-fd-332) is designed to help the inspector check through each activity of maple syrup processing establishments but does not replace the Food Processing Establishment Inspection Report (F-fd-2).


Sap may be collected with pails, commercial bags and/or through a tube system (with or without vacuum).

NOTE: Be aware that in the past the food additive Para-formaldehyde had been allowed to be used by operators to control microbial and fungal growth in maple tree tap holes. This practice is NO LONGER allowed.

Equipment should be cleaned and sanitized prior to and after the season. Reason: No equipment should be put away and stored while in a dirty condition and because of the long storage period it is recommended the items be rewashed and sanitized prior to use.

Equipment should also be stored clean and protected during the production season.

• Pails shall include covers that provide protection from debris and rain water. Pails shall be food grade; stainless, galvanized metal and plastic in good condition (sanitary and easily cleanable) are acceptable.

• Collection bags shall be good grade plastic and intended for this use.

• Tube sap collection systems shall include food-grade plastic tubing that is free of visible soil and maintained in a mold free condition.

• Sap storage tanks shall be made of food grade material, clean and in good condition; Underground tanks and/or concrete cisterns may be used for sap storage as they help to keep the sap cool - they must be of sanitary construction and easily cleaned.

• All openings to sap collection and storage tanks shall be kept covered or effectively sealed if located outside the building.

• Sap transfer hoses shall be kept capped or plugged between uses.


NOTE: Occasionally operators install collection pans or tubes inside the evaporator hood to reclaim hot condensation water for cleaning and hand washing purposes. Some operators also reclaim water from Reverse Osmosis systems. Regardless of which reclaim water system they use, the reclaim system should be checked for sanitary design, reasonable construction materials, and protection from contamination. Only potable water may be used on finishing


Syrup tanks and bulk containers shall be made of food grade material, rust free, in good
condition and clean. Syrup tanks shall be kept covered.

Filter socks shall be clean and sanitary. Filter presses should be rinsed with hot water
after each day's use.

If ultra violet lights are used, they shall be shielded or shatterproof.


The finishing room shall be separated from all other processing activities. Milk house
type construction is recommended with regard to doors, walls, ceiling, floor and lights.
The family home kitchen is not approved for syrup finishing and packaging at a licensed
facility that wishes to wholesale the bottled syrup.

The finishing room shall be kept clean, neatly organized and free of unnecessary

Suitable equipment wash sinks are required for cleaning and sanitizing utensils and
equipment. The inspector should question the operator about the cleaning procedures
and determine if improvements are required or needed and make recommendations
based on assessment.

« A hand wash station shall be provided with potable water, hand soap and paper towels. NOTE: If one hand wash station is conveniently located to serve both the room equipment product contact surfaces for final rinse and sanitizing. Reclaim water may not be bottled for sale as drinking water.

• The evaporator room shall be constructed with walls and ceiling that are sealed tight to control entry of birds, rodents and insects, and a floor that is smooth, durable and maintained in a clean condition. Dirt floors and household pets are not permitted. The walls and ceiling are not required to be completely finished however, they shall be maintained in a clean condition. Painting all exposed raw wood a light color is recommended.

» Evaporators may be fueled by gas, oil or wood. All fuel storage shall be kept outside the evaporator building.

• Diatomaceous earth may be used as a filtering agent. Must be food grade. NOTE: It has been reported that egg shells have also been used as a filtering agent. Egg shells may not be used due to allergen concerns.

• Defoamers may be used in small amounts; a common one in use today is vegetable oil such as Crisco Shortening. Be sure defoamers are food grade and not an allergen concern.

• All overhead lights shall be shatterproof or shielded.

• Ventilation shall be sufficient to remove steam.

• A hand wash station shall be provided with potable water, hand soap and paper towels.

• Equipment shall be maintained in good repair and in clean condition.

• The evaporator may include a vented hood to effectively remove steam. The steam-side of the hood shall be smooth, durable, impervious to moisture, and easily cleanable. Vented hoods made with wood frames shall have the wood surfaces only on the outside of the hood.

« Utensils such as cloth filters, hydrometers, thermometers, skimmers, etc. shall be made of food grade material, kept clean and stored protected between uses.

room and the syrup finishing room, a separate hand wash station is not necessary in the finishing room.

• Water supplied shall be obtained from a source that complies with current DNR regulations, transported and held in a sanitary manner and be sampled and tested each year for compliance with microbiological standards.

• Syrup finishing equipment shall be cleaned after each day's use.


• Commercial retail packaging containers are recommended. If glass jars designed for multiple use are re-used, they shall be washed and sanitized prior to filling. Only new lids shall be used on glass jars that have been returned for re-use. Old lids shall be discarded; rings may be re-used if in good condition.

• Retail containers shall be stored protected from potential contamination.

• The retail sales area shall be separate from all production areas.

• Labels shall conform to minimum requirements (common name of the food, name & location of the processor or distributor, net quantity). Ingredient listing is required if table syrup (not "Pure" maple syrup) is produced.


• Outside surroundings shall be neatly maintained.

• Toilet facilities (includes outhouses) shall be properly supplied, conveniently located and include a self-closing door and hand wash station,

• Waste, refuse and junk items shall not be allowed to accumulate on the premises.

• Maple syrup grading requirements may be found in ATCP 157 subchapter II.

• The inspector should be observant for foreign sweeteners (sugar supplies) stored on site and check product labeling for ingredient listings. Product samples may be collected if doubts exist regarding added sweeteners. "Pure" maple syrup is considered adulterated if analyses results reveal malic acid is less than 0.35% and soluble solids is less than 66%.

• Lead taps may not be used for sap collection at the tree. Lead-based solder may not be used for equipment repair to product contact surfaces or plumbing.


The Food & Drug Administration has advised the Maple Syrup industry of a 500 ppb (parts per billion) standard. As long as the results are below that level, the FDA does not take any action. To promote a uniform interpretation, Division personnel are requested to use the following guidelines, based on laboratory analysis results for lead.

• If test results are less than 250 ppb, no follow-up required.

• . If test results are at least 250 ppb but less than 500 ppb, this is a preventive action limit.

The Supervisor will direct follow-up with an on site visit to determine potential sources of contamination and use the visit as an opportunity to educate the manufacturer on possible causes and preventive action.

• If test results are at or above 500 ppb, this is an action level. The Supervisor will consult with the FDA to determine the most appropriate follow-up. The follow-up action may include an on-site inspection, evaluation of equipment and facilities to determine potential causes and holding the product. The Division of Food Safety will work in a cooperative manner with FDA in an effort to eliminate causes and reduce test results on future sampling.