Cecil Cass is now 86 years old and has personally been making maple syrup for three quarters of a century. Starting as a young boy he helped out his father after school and on the weekends during the Second World War years but maple has actually been made on the farm since the Cass family first immigrated to Canada back in 1798, a short 15 years after the end of the American Revolution. The farm name Cassbrae was chosen for the property in 1958 after their own family name and is a Scottish term for “hillside along a river” – which is a perfect designation for this remarkable farm standing up hill on Cassburn Road and overlooking the Ottawa River. The farm now spans seven generations and 1000 acres and celebrated its bicentennial in 1998, the year of the devastating ice storm in Eastern Ontario & Quebec. Cecil’s farm is mostly cash crops today but with a good interest in heifers, fire wood, and maple syrup after buying up most of the local smaller farms as other farmers retired or families moved on. Not one to shy away from new maple technology Cecil was the first to embrace developments like oil fired evaporators and reverse osmosis to cut the amount of labour involved. In both cases he was the first within the region to own and operate each new technology and has recently upgraded to a new high concentrate RO. He fully admits that had the new high efficiency wood evaporators been invented years ago he would have skipped right over oil to wood fired gasification.
Currently running about 3300 taps with 1200 of them still on buckets due to the nature of the bush most sales are farm gate with some bulk to local producers and a family member selling in the nearby City of Ottawa. His first pipeline was installed about 20 years ago but was ravaged by squirrels the first few years well beyond the damage levels caused to today’s type of tubing. Cecil is helped by three other family members during the maple season along with a few local part time young people as needed. The Ice storm of 1998 destroyed most of his tubing installation and severely damaged the maple forest but in those days lime was allowed to be spread by airplane and Cecil had already had his bush limed at the same time as his neighbouring agricultural fields. After the ice storm his bush filled with new maple growth setting him ahead of the curve on regeneration.
One of the original members of the Eastern Ontario Maple Syrup Producers’ Association (one of eleven chapters within the Ontario Producers Association), Cecil has been president of the Local three times in the past five decades and is still an active member of the board of directors some 50+ years later in addition to continuing to serve on a half dozen other agriculturally based boards.
“It’s a changing times in agriculture and I always like change. There are many new technologies coming out in maple these days making things better, faster, or more cost effective” Cecil tells me. “Toughest time was just after the war bottling in old wine bottles and 5 or 10 gallon cans after food rations had finally been lifted. We used to seal the bottles with wax and seems no one got sick and the syrup kept alright”. Cecil still has today food ration coupons from the mid-forties for sugar. For those don’t know many main food staples were rationed in Canada between 1942 and 1947 in an effort to support the troops and European civilians during, and for a time after, the Second World War and sugar was one of the first to be rationed due to its use in shells and bombs. Even maple syrup was rationed at one point but most farms had their own stash down in the root cellar. “In the early years it was hard times with a tremendous amount of snow to get through. Often the horses had to be taken off the sleigh and walked through the snow just to make a trail to pull the sleigh because the snow was too deep. Syrup prices were so low then too. Those were hard times.” Asked if he will ever retire he simply responds “All depends on our health. You never know. Things can change quick. I always believed in working with people and working for people. That got me a long piece. I am always quiet and would never scrap with them. You got to give in a little bit.”
In 2013 Cecil and his family were honoured by the Ontario Maple Syrup Producers’ Association at their annual Sumer Tour by being presented the Ontario Maple Syrup Award. On behalf of the Eastern Local of the Ontario Maple Syrup Producers’ Association we wish Cecil and his family many more years of sugaring to come and thank him for his continuing 50 years of service to our group.
Following are excerpts from a news release distributed today regarding a new Asian longhorned beetle (Anoplophora glabripennis) (ALB) infestation found in Clermont County, OH:
“The Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA), in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) today announced the discovery of Asian longhorned beetle (ALB) infested trees in a section of the East Fork Wildlife Area in Clermont County.”
“East Fork Wildlife Area consists of 2,705 acres that are managed by the ODNR Division of Wildlife for public hunting and fishing in southwestern Ohio. It is unlawful for any person to remove wood from a wildlife area without first obtaining approval.“
“The center of the newly discovered infestation is within the Williamsburg Township portion of the East Fork Wildlife Area, south of Clover Road. Tree inspection crews will continue to survey the area and surrounding areas to determine the extent of the infestation. Using ground surveyors and specially trained tree climbers, crews will inspect host tree species susceptible to ALB for signs of the wood-boring beetle. Any trees found to be infested will be removed as part of the eradication effort.“
“Once the extent of the infestation is evaluated, ODA will move to expand the ALB quarantine to include additional areas near the new infestation. When available, a map of the regulated areas will be posted …”
ALB has a history in North America of infestations starting from single points of introduction with beetle “founders” arriving directly from Asia. Multiple related infestations then evolve in a region with their size and number being dependent on how long ALB remains undetected.
ALB in Clermont County, OH, has followed a trajectory similar to infestations in other regions. The original infestation discovered in 2011 near Bethel in Tate Township produced satellite infestations discovered in nearby Monroe Township (2011) and Stone Lick Township (2012). It is known that infested materials had been moved prior to the discovery of ALB in Ohio. It is not yet known how the new infestation in the East Fork Wildlife Area became established; investigations are underway.
It was encouraging that no new ALB infestations had been found in Ohio since 2012. However, the new discovery reminds us that we must remain vigilant. The following images show key diagnostic features that can help you detect an ALB infestation. Although ALB will develop on trees belonging to 12 genera, maples (including boxelder) are by far the most preferred hosts.
Cecil Cass received the Ontario Maple Syrup Award from the Ontario maple Producers’ Association in 2013 to recognize his 75 years and seven generations of making maple in Eastern Ontario.
Bruce Gillian of Leader Evaporator recently presented his “Boiling 101” presentation at the Eastern Ontario Maple Workshop this past November. At one point he asked everyone to stand up because he was going to recognize someone in the room but didn’t know who it would be. He started by asking who has not made any syrup yet or has boiled for their first time. Several hands went up, he congratulated them, then asked them to sit down. He then asked who had been boiling for 5 years or less, congratulated them, then asked them to sit down, and then asked again about 10 years. At this point a third of the room was sitting. He continued on in five year increments until at the 45 year mark only two gentlemen were still standing. Five years continued to be added until finally at the 60 year mark the second to last producer finally sat down. Determined to finish the exercise Bruce added 5 more years… 65… 70… “Okay sir. How long have you been boiling?” Cecil Cass of Eastern Ontario with a big grin on his face answered with “75 years and still going.”
According to Statistics Canada, Ontario maple syrup producers produced approximately 2.2 million litres of maple syrup in 2011, valued at $32 559 million. Ontario is the province that produces the second largest volume of maple syrup in Canada, following vastly behind Quebec and ahead of New Brunswick.
In a study conducted in 2010 for the Fédération des producteurs agricoles du Québec (FPAQ), the maple sugar industry in Ontario has a strong development potential, especially on Crown land. Apart from its current economic importance, the sector has an important historical and cultural value, especially in the rural regions. The Ontario sector is characterized by a tendency towards adding value through specialty products such as maple butter, candies, taffy and gourmet products. Furthermore, it has a competitive advantage in its proximity to important urban centers and the United States market. Maple syrup festivals held in various towns and villages show the upward cultural and economic dynamics of an industry that is far from having reached its full potential.
The Ontario Maple Syrup Producers Association (OMSPA), the main representative body of maple syrup producers in the province, counts approximately 500 members. The Association provides them with information, network services, marketing, and training. It also represents the maple syrup sector at various levels of government alongside private and academic partners. It provides consumers with information on the benefits of using maple products and on where to obtain locally produced maple syrup.
Currently Ontario maple producers can only supply 60% of the Ontario market with the balance being imported from Quebec without factoring in exports. Any farm or woodlot owner wondering if maple products could add to their revenue should know the answer is a resounding “yes”. Like many commodity groups the Ontario Maple Producers Association attends many agricultural, woodlot, and conservation events each year promoting local producers and the association. At every event we are approached by cash croppers or woodlot owners looking to add to farm revenue with questions on how to get started or costs involved.
Several studies have shown that the sustainability of maple production will outperform the cash income produced by lumber production for a hardwood woodlot with proper management practices. What most people do not realize is that despite Quebec producing approximately 72% of the world’s supply of maple syrup Ontario actually has more tapable trees than Quebec and has the potential to dominate world supply.
While there is a learning curve involved with maple production and equipment can be expensive the maple season easily incorporates into cash crop operations, hobby farms, and woodlots given the season arrives after a long winter of indoors but before any yardwork or seeding can take place. Maple production is a perfect add on to your farm profits if you have a maple stand located on your property and it doesn’t necessarily need to be sugar maple. Any type of maple tree can be used for maple syrup production although the season may be sorter and the sugar content lower using soft maples.
Most people starting out will produce for the farm and perhaps some family and friends but production typically outgrows that supply and before your know it you are selling to local neighbours. The biggest difference between Ontario maple and Quebec maple is the uniqueness of the flavour. Most Ontario producers only sell their own syrup which will have a unique flavour based on their trees, soil conditions, and processing techniques. Quebec producers all get blended into essentially a canning factory for a uniform taste but their logistics and distribution make it hard to compete from a price stand point for the big shops like Loblaws or Sobeys. Produce a good quality syrup and you will have the local sales to support your maple business
OMSPA has been apprised that insect infestations are occurring in sugar bushes, primarily from Eastern Tent Caterpillar but there are others as well. Todd Leuty was kind enough to share the following information. We have only heard of issues is the Eastern part of Ontario. If there are other areas please let Todd and OMSPA know.
From Todd Leuty:
Pest activity can be different for each region. For sugar bush and woodlot health situations, I work with the Forest Health Specialists with MNRF for the designated region. Vanessa Chaimbrone is the Forest Health Specialist for the eastern region. Vanessa works directly with the lead forest entomologist Dr. Taylor Scarr, MNRF (Canadian Forest Service after June 17). They would be familiar with private aerial applicators that operate in their regions. For example, in southwest Ontario Zimmer Air Services coordinates many of the insecticide applications for sugar bushes and managed woodlots.
The forest health specialist usually will know hot spot activity and stages of development of forest pests in their area. For example, forest tent caterpillar larvae would be in an advanced development stage by now so insecticide treatment would be less effective. Severe defoliation in a sugar bush is rather alarming when it occurs. Fortunately, we know that sugar maples have evolved with these native defoliators and can survive most outbreaks, where trees aren’t stressed by other additional factors at the same time.
Foray and Dipel are Bt insecticides. Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) is a naturally occurring bacterium which produces a toxin, that is commonly used as a biological insecticide. Bt insecticides are usually approved for use by organic certification, but check with your certifying organization to confirm this. I’m not sure whether the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC certification) approves the use of Bt insecticide in its sugar bushes, check with them.
Many overwintering egg masses can be laid during heavy outbreaks, which will set up a sugar bush or deciduous woodlot for heavy defoliation to occur again the following season. If left alone, the population will eventually decline after two or three seasons due to natural predation and natural disease, which brings the outbreak to an end. However, sugar production, annual sapwood growth and tap hole healing can be affected.
Where a heavy outbreak is expected to occur again the following year, sugar bush operators can contact an aerial applicator in advance of spring to arrange an insecticide application to be applied shortly after egg-hatch. The Forest Health Specialists can assist with locating an aerial applicator and providing ideal spray timing. Each producer can decide the appropriate management decision for their own operation. Some producers prefer to let nature take its course and not apply insecticides for forest tent caterpillar.
Tapping considerations following defoliation Sugar bushes that are severely defoliated by tent caterpillar will leaf out again after a few weeks, although the new canopy will appear sparse compared to the original canopy. Maple researchers have found that re-growth of the second canopy will allow the trees to photosynthesize sugar again, however, the effort of growing more leaves will drain the trees of much of the starch energy that was on reserve in the trees. Syrup producers have found sap sugar concentrations are considerably low following severe defoliation since trees have been depleted of stored starch and sugar. Previously in Grey Bruce counties, sap sugar concentration remained less than 1.5 Brix following severe defoliation by forest tent caterpillar.
Syrup producers can consider reduced tapping (no more than one tap per tree), or no tapping following severe defoliation, to protect the long-term health of their sugar bush. Reduced tapping may be necessary for two consecutive seasons, or until heavy outbreaks subside. Any other stress factors, such as summer drought, should also be taken into consideration when determining the health of the trees this coming winter.
There may be some consideration of lowering the vacuum pressure in sap collection tubing along with reduced tapping, but we can consult with maple researchers for this question. Dr. Abby van den Berg from University of Vermont will be speaking at the maple summer tour on sustainable management practices and this would be a good question for Abby and other maple researchers.
Where an insecticide has been applied at the correct timing and severe defoliation is prevented, normal tapping can resume the next tapping season, assuming the sugar bush has had a normal healthy summer season to replenish starch and sucrose storage.
Feedback and comments from experienced producers are always welcome.
Michael Farrell | Reprinted from The Maple News
I have been attending the board meetings of the International Maple Syrup Institute for the past several years. The agendas are always interesting and focus on a wide variety of topics of importance to the maple syrup industry, including many facets of marketing and promotion, misrepresentation of maple syrup in the marketplace, and ensuring product quality. I have been fairly surprised by the amount of discussion related to improving the quality of maple syrup in the marketplace, as I never realized how big and widespread a problem it was and continues to be. We all know maple syrup is a pure, natural, and (usually) delicious product, but we may not realize the extent to which off-flavors can occur in maple syrup. It is imperative that as we continue to grow the industry, we make concerted efforts to ensure that all of the maple syrup being offered for retail sale is of the highest quality possible and to keep defective syrup out of the hands of all consumers. The new grading system makes it clear that any defective syrup should be classified as processing grade syrup. There are many ingredient applications where the off-flavors can be hidden and those are acceptable uses for processing grade syrup.
To give you a sense of the nature of the problem, consider the following. Ten years ago, the Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers started a program to monitor syrup quality being offered at retail stores throughout Quebec. They bought 100 random samples every year and checked to make sure that the syrup met minimum requirements for color, density, clarity, and flavor. When they first started checking on quality control, 40% of the random samples that they pulled did not meet minimum quality requirements. Think about it- for every five people that purchased a bottle of pure maple syrup, two wound up with a defective bottle. Some of it was have just been labeled as the wrong grade, or may not have been a high enough density, but some of it was undoubtedly off-flavored. When someone gets a bottle of off-flavored maple syrup, they either (1) eat it anyways because they don’t like to waste, (2) throw it out and purchase a new bottle that hopefully tastes better, or (3) throw it away and no longer purchase pure maple syrup.
The Federation has been working diligently on increasing quality and that figure is now down to 15%. There are two ways to think about that- one is that it is an incredible feat to have reduced the incidence from 40% to 15% in a relatively short time frame. The other is to say any number above 0 is unacceptable, and we need to continue to be vigilant so that nobody purchases maple syrup that doesn’t meet the high standards that we should all hold ourselves to. Remember that people are more likely to relate a negative experience to their friends and family than a positive one, so we must ensure that nobody has a reason to state why they had a negative experience with pure maple.
One of ways the Federation has reduced the incidence of off-flavored syrup has been through a joint agreement of the packers not to put an off-flavored syrup in to retail packages. All of the bulk syrup is graded through the Federation, and if it is off-flavored, the packers have to prove that it is being used for industrial or processing purposes and is not blended in to retail containers. The system is not perfect but it’s on the right track. Maple producers and packers in all jurisdictions should follow that same guideline when packaging syrup for retail sale.
While skilled people may be able to blend in some off-flavored syrup in to a large batch and not be able to taste it- that is risky business. You can very easily ruin an entire batch of syrup when bottling if you put in too much of the off-flavored syrup. It is important to be able to recognize off-flavors and make sure none of that winds up in a jug of syrup meant for retail sale as table-grade syrup. The opportunity for blending in off-flavors is certainly enticing for producers who make light-colored, but off flavored syrup at the end of the season. It may look like a Golden or Amber syrup, but it certainly doesn’t taste like a high-quality Golden or Amber syrup. With the new grading system, the flavor must match the color. If it has a Golden color but a commercial flavor, then it is commercial (or processing grade) syrup and should be graded and sold as such.
With the increased focus on sap processing efficiencies and collecting sap later in to the spring, the amount of off-flavored syrup has risen significantly in recent years. We are collecting sap later in to the spring when sap quality has deteriorated and the sap doesn’t get enough time under high heat to adequately caramelize and develop a strong flavor to overpower off-flavors.
Approximately 1/3 of the syrup in reserve at the Federation is off-flavored and we have an oversupply of processing grade syrup in the marketplace (20 million pounds at the Federation warehouses alone). The amount of processing grade syrup being produced is outpacing the demand for this type of syrup in commercial and industrial applications. That is one of the main reasons the prices for commercial syrup dropped so much last year and will be even lower this year.
The problem with off-flavored or otherwise defective syrup on store shelves is certainly not limited to the experiences described in Quebec above. In fact, this is a problem that we see throughout the world and Quebec likely has one of the lowest rates of defective syrup on store shelves. Many problems are the result of producers failing to properly store, package, and handle syrup. It is often producers who don’t go to meetings, belong to their local association, or subscribe to publications such as this one. While the majority of sugarmakers have the skills, knowledge, and desire to only put the highest quality syrup on the marketplace, unfortunately that is not true for everyone. In Extension, we struggle with trying to transfer knowledge to people who don’t to come to meetings or read various publications. If you know of producers that may benefit from additional training, please try to encourage them to take advantage of different learning opportunities.
Tasting syrup is very important, so we always recommend having someone with a discerning palate taste syrup before it is bottled. At the New York State Fair, there are usually four people judging samples of pure maple syrup entered in to the competition. While the vast majority of syrups do pass the test on color, density, and clarity, more than half are usually rejected as a result of flavor defects (and all four people agree that there is a flavor defect). At the NAMSC/IMSI meeting a few years ago in New Brunswick, the judges had a hard time finding any samples entered in certain categories that met quality standards. This happened to be a year when metabolism was a major problem, which was the source of many of the off-flavors. While there are many more examples of these types of events, there is no need to belabor the point. Maintaining syrup quality is a serious problem and something we all have a responsibility to focus on. Even if you always make sure that syrup you offer for sale is of the highest quality, it is important to also make sure your fellow sugarmakers follow the same high standards. When any syrup is being offered for sale that doesn’t meet the standard we expect, it hurts the reputation of the entire maple industry.
The first step towards correcting a problem is admitting you have one. The IMSI has clearly identified that we have a problem with off-flavored and otherwise defective syrup in the marketplace. It is imperative to make sure that whatever syrup we bottle and sell is done so with the highest quality standards in place. We all have room to improve our skills and gain additional knowledge in the area of maple syrup grading and quality control. I encourage all producers to take advantage of learning opportunities in this arena whenever they are offered. The IMSI puts on at least one maple grading school every year, usually in conjunction with the annual meeting in October http://extension.umaine.edu/maple-grading-school/ Centre Acer also puts on a similar program throughout the province of Quebec. The initiative in Ontario as described in this issue is a great example of producers taking the initiative to help inform themselves and other fellow producers on methods to ensure syrup quality. If you are able to attend, I highly encourage you to do so, and be on the lookout for other similar courses when they are offered in the future.