DURHAM, N.H. — New Hampshire is well known for its maple syrup industry, which is one of the first indicators that spring is just around the corner. But native, deciduous hardwoods such as sycamore, beech, birch, hickory, and basswood may offer commercial and backyard maple syrup producers an untapped opportunity to extend the Northeast sugaring season and diversify the industry and your next pancake breakfast with high-value niche syrups.
Scientists with the New Hampshire Agricultural Experiment Station in the UNH College of Life Sciences and Agriculture will present preliminary findings of the first assessment of sap flows in species of trees that offer unique tasting, high-value syrups. The findings will be discussed at a virtual research field day from 6 to 7 p.m., Thursday, March 18, 2021. The NHAES scientists will be joined by a UNH Cooperative Extension’s state forestry specialist to help answer questions and provide recommendations for Granite State’s sugarmakers. The event is free and open to the public. Registration is required.
“Winter-dormant-season sap flow in maples, birches, and walnuts has been studied, but there isn’t research on this topic for other species. I hope our work will help sugarmakers know more precisely when the sap will flow and when they should tap their trees,” said doctoral student David Moore, who is conducting the research with experiment station scientist Heidi Asbjornsen.
Moore and Asbjornsen have been monitoring sap flow in several species of native, deciduous hardwoods during winter dormancy. They have found that sap flows in all of them to some degree during this period, though none have the prolific sap flows that maples, birches, and walnuts do.
They plan to analyze the chemical compositions of sap and syrup samples to determine whether they have health or medicinal benefits or contain poisonous compounds. The chemical composition of sap also informs how it should be processed. For example, Moore said birch sap contains a different sugar profile than maple sap, and consequently birch sap should be processed with less heat than maple sap.
“Some of these species may offer season-extending possibilities for farmers. For example, birch sap runs when maple sugaring season is over. Farmers could use their expensive sugaring infrastructure and their expertise for more than the six to eight-week maple sugaring season,” said Moore, who became interested in niche syrups after owning a specialty syrup business several years ago.
“It takes more work to produce birch syrup than it does to produce maple syrup, but the high price of birch syrup makes up for it. There will undoubtedly be a high demand for new and different types of syrup. It’s been more than five years since I’ve made syrup commercially, and I still get asked regularly if I have sycamore syrup for sale,” Moore said.
Mike Farrell, founder of New Leaf Tree Syrups and a technical consultant on the research project, said specialty syrups afford “many synergies and cost savings in being able to produce many different types of syrups as opposed to having all of your investment focused on just one type of syrup.”
“They are complementary in the marketplace because people who choose to buy pure maple syrup are also intrigued that you can get syrups from other trees and want to taste them and try out on pancakes or other recipes,” Farrell said.
According to Moore, prices are variable, but on average, a gallon of birch syrup can cost more than $200 while a gallon of maple syrup typically costs less than $50.
“The production supply is low, but producers typically sell out every year as demand exceeds production quantities, especially if efforts are put in to marketing these syrups,” Farrell said.
Also participating in the event is Steve Roberge, state forestry specialist for UNH Extension. Roberge is well known throughout the state for his expertise in maple syrup and products and has served in leadership roles for the NH Maple Producers Association and the NH Maple Museum.
Assessing winter-dormant-season sap flow also serves ecological purposes. During the growing season, when trees experience drought, gas bubbles can form in their xylem, which is the tissue that transports water. These gas bubbles, or embolisms, restrict sap flow and can be detrimental to tree health. Winter-dormant-season sap flow can help repair these embolisms and ensure that tree vascular systems are ready for the next growing season.
Preliminary results of this research were presented at the 2019 XI International Workshop on Sap Flow in Hyytiälä, Finland. This material is based upon work supported by the NH Agricultural Experiment Station, through joint funding of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, U.S. Department of Agriculture, under award number 1022415, and the state of New Hampshire. The project also is supported by Northeast SARE.
Founded in 1887, the NH Agricultural Experiment Station at the UNH College of Life Sciences and Agriculture is UNH’s first research center and an elemental component of New Hampshire’s land-grant university heritage and mission. We steward federal and state funding, including support from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, to provide unbiased and objective research concerning diverse aspects of sustainable agriculture and foods, aquaculture, forest management, and related wildlife, natural resources, and rural community topics. We maintain the Woodman and Kingman agronomy and horticultural research farms, the Macfarlane Research Greenhouses, the Fairchild Dairy Teaching and Research Center, and the Organic Dairy Research Farm. Additional properties also provide forage, forests, and woodlands in direct support to research, teaching, and outreach.
The University of New Hampshire is a flagship research university that inspires innovation and transforms lives in our state, nation, and world. More than 16,000 students from all 50 states and 71 countries engage with an award-winning faculty in top ranked programs in business, engineering, law, liberal arts, and the sciences across more than 200 programs of study. UNH’s research portfolio includes partnerships with NASA, NOAA, NSF, NIH, and USDA, receiving more than $100 million in competitive external funding every year to further explore and define the frontiers of land, sea, and space.
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