How We Get Maple Syrup May Change in a Huge Way

Think farms, not forests, and much bigger yields

By Matt Cantor,  Newser Staff

Posted Jan 25, 2014 7:24 AM CST

(Newser) – Maple syrup has traditionally been a product of forests, not farms—but a new discovery could change that. Researchers found to their surprise that mature maple trees weren't necessary to generate large volumes of sap. Instead, the stuff can come from saplings with their tops removed, the University of Vermont explains. The small trees could be packed together in open fields, writes Laura Sorkin in Modern Farmer: "In other words, it is possible that maple syrup could now be produced as a row crop like every other commercial crop in North America." The story by Sorkin, who has a traditional maple syrup operation of her own, calls it a potential "revolution" for the industry. The UV report also uses the word "revolutionary."

The key to the discovery came when researchers noticed that a mature maple missing most of its crown was still producing sap. That, Sorkin writes, shot their presumption that "the sap dripping from tap holes was coming from the upper portion of the tree." Instead, they realized the tree must be "drawing moisture from the roots." To test, they cut the tops off small trees and found that they, too, produced sap. What might this lead to? Think 6,000 saplings per acre and a yield of 400 gallons of syrup, compared with 40 to 50 gallons per acre from a natural forest. As a "sugarmaker" herself, Sorkin has some concerns about the technology:

  • "I fear that the industry will no longer be special to New England but will be usurped by entrepreneurs anywhere with the right climate. And on a more visceral level, I feel that maple syrup is and should remain a product of the wild."
Real-world application is still a ways away, says the Daily American, though the two UV researchers behind the discovery have applied for a patent on the process. Gizmodo foresees lots more choices in supermarket aisles. (Click to read about that famous $18 million syrup heist in Canada.)

Tapping mature trees may eventually be unnecessary.   (Shutterstock)
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