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SALEM, Ohio — You don’t have to own your own boiler house, or even your own buckets and taps to enjoy the bounty of Ohio’s maple syrup.
Growing interest in this savory topping, and in preserving the maple tree, has woodlot owners pursuing creative ways to offer their own trees for maple syrup production.
Dave Hively, a longtime syrup producer from Salem, owns several acres of maple trees that he’s tapped since 1985. But he also has leasing rights to about 300 taps, and the sap from 1,200 other taps is shipped in.
This combination of owning and renting helps him to be a successful maple producer, and also helps the other landowners.
Although no dollar figure is the same for everyone, and every year can differ, average pay per maple tap is between 30 and 50 cents. For a producer who rents out 150 trees, with two taps each, this would yield $90-$150 annually.
But, as Hively has found, some customers prefer syrup as a fair trade in place of the money, depending on what’s involved. This is how he pays at least one of his lease partners, who provides the trees and maintains the collection equipment in exchange for a set amount of syrup.
“There’s people who would like to tap (trees) but don’t want to spend a fortune to buy the equipment,” he said.
These arrangements help those people, and also the full-scale producers.
But Hively said there’s another reason to lease maple trees — it helps preserve a part of history and a valuable resource for Ohio.
“People think you’ve got to go to Vermont to get good syrup, but we can keep a good product here,” he said.
Too often, Hively said, when maple trees are cut out, they’re not often replanted. Instead, the woodlots replenish with other kinds of trees, or underbrush, depending on the species still present. He estimates it takes about 20 years until new maple trees are ready to tap.
“I would like to see people lease their woods instead of cutting the sugar maple out, because once they’re gone, they’re gone,” he said.
As vice president of the Ohio Maple Producers Association, he thinks there may be opportunity for Ohio Farm Bureau and state legislators to educate people about the importance of maple trees, and provide more incentive to grow and replant them — possibly through tax credits.
Ohio maple syrup has the benefit of being a locally produced food, which adds to its appeal.
“Right now, the fastest growing segment of the food industry is locally produced (foods),” said Gary Graham, Ohio State University Extension educator, who helps coordinate the Ohio Maple Producers Association.
Hively said he has his maple sap needs met. But he thinks other producers in Ohio could benefit by finding new suppliers, and that landowners could benefit through additional income — even if it’s in the form of syrup.
The Ohio maple association does not have a formal contact system for those interested in renting their trees, but multiple maple producers and their contacts are available on the OMPA website, www.ohiomapleproducers.com.
Make a plan
Board members suggest the owners of maple trees and those who own the collection equipment form an agreement before doing business together. This ensures all parties understand what is involved, and who is responsible for what.
Careful handling and timely processing are all concerns of those who make syrup, and are part of the reason why syrup making is best in the hands of experienced producers. Bacteria can easily build, and differences in temperature quickly affect sap quality.
As one board member puts it, “what runs today, gets boiled today,” a simple way to assure freshness and quality.
Hively won Best of Show in the 2009 North American Maple Syrup contest — an honor that sets him apart. But what he and other producers have most is knowledge about what works and what doesn’t, and a well-cultivated taste.
He insists on the best quality syrup, even when he’s the only one who can tell the difference. Recently, he tried a new kind of storage container, but was displeased because of some slight taste differences.
“You might not know the difference, but I do,” he said.