KIDRON, Ohio — As technology improves, our production practices tend to change. Whether you’re milking cows or growing apples, it’s natural to check out the latest trends and newest equipment. But cutting-edge innovations often come with a big price tag, so how can you be sure those new ideas are worth a hefty initial investment?
A group of Ohio maple syrup producers looked for answers to this question Jan. 30 at Ohio Maple Days in Kidron, Ohio. The workshop included presentations on reverse osmosis, maple syrup economics, plate filter press operation, lead issues, keeping records and the Asian longhorned beetle.
Here, Farm and Dairy takes a look at some topics from the event:
What is reverse osmosis and why would I need it?
Reverse osmosis is a filtration process used by some maple syrup producers. The equipment is expensive, but it can greatly reduce the amount of fuel typically used to boil down syrup.
What else should I know about reverse osmosis?
In addition to reducing fuel by about 75 percent, reverse osmosis can also save time for producers. It’s a source of permeate, as well.
On the flip side, however, the equipment costs anywhere from $5,000 to $46,000 or more, according to Brian Stowe of the University of Vermont’s Proctor Maple Research Center. Plus, you must keep the equipment in a heated space so the membrane doesn’t freeze. You’ll also need space for concentrate tanks and permeate tanks. Also, some of the cleaning products are hazardous and create the potential for accidents.
How do I know what kind of technology is right for me?
“We really need to take a good look at, ‘How I’ll pay for it and will it pay for itself?'” said Les Ober, of Ohio State University Extension in Geauga County.
Are you making enough syrup to meet demands? Or are you making too much? What’s your marketing potential? These are questions to consider as you think about investing in new technology, Ober said.
Also, evaluate your present operation and determine the importance of revenue from maple syrup and how you could be more efficient in production.
Finally, make sure you’ve looked at all your options, including value-added products and new retail markets.
Will a technology upgrade benefit my operation?
There are no guarantees, of course. But there are some questions you can ask to get a better grip on the answer to this question.
Make sure you can justify your purchases. Will better technology make you more efficient? Give you a higher quality product? Don’t buy something on impulse just because it’s available.
Ober said it’s best to listen to the voice of reason, whether that’s your spouse or your conscience.
What’s the most recent news on maple syrup and lead issues?
The Ohio Department of Agriculture and private labs have tested 369 maple syrup samples for lead in the past three years. In 2006, 43 percent of the samples were in a good, or acceptable, range for lead. By 2008, 86 percent of the samples tested in the acceptable range.
Gary Graham, a natural resource specialist at the Ohio State University Extension Center in Wooster, encouraged all producers to get their syrup tested. You can’t see, feel or taste lead, so the only way to know for sure is to submit samples for testing, he said.
Do I really have to code every bottle of syrup I plan to sell?
You should, according to Graham. Each bottle should have a code that tells the producer the date the syrup was boiled and barreled, the date the container was filled and whose syrup is in the container.
If there’s ever problem, a code will help producers figure out which bottles of syrup came from the questionable batch. Using some kind of code will ensure that you don’t have to throw out every bottle of syrup on your shelf if trouble arises.