How, When, and Why of Forest Farming

Unit 5: Maple Sugar


Maple syrup is a uniquely Northeastern North American product, owing to the concentration of sugar maple trees (Acer saccharum) in the region. The tradition of maple sugaring here predates European settlement, while the predominately small-scale, family-based approach to production adds another dimension of cultural uniqueness to maple as a forest farming crop. Managing a sugar bush is a compelling way to have your cake and eat it too. The trees provide a variety of ecological functions that society values, while gaining in timber value as they approach maturity, all the while producing an annual product for your family to use, market or give to family and friends. These combined public and private benefit qualities themselves have market value, which can be used to help turn an ordinary barrel of maple syrup into a gourmet specialty product that is infused with the aura of social and ecological sustainability.

If you have maple trees in your forest, then you may want to consider producing maple syrup from them. If you do not have maple trees and want to produce maple syrup you have a choice of either planting maple trees and waiting some 20 years to tap them, or of gaining access to trees that other people own. If you are not sure whether you have sugar maple trees the Sugar Maple Profile (see below) will help you find out. If you are thinking of planting maple for future harvest, look into the possibility of procuring Sweet Trees (see below) that have been bred for above-average sugar concentration. For this discussion it is assumed that you have some maple trees and would like to integrate maple syrup production into your forest management plan.

It is useful to think about a maple syrup operation as four major units of activity:

  1. Managing your sugar bush
  2. Collecting sap
  3. Processing sap into syrup and other products
  4. Packaging and marketing your maple products

Resources for starting out

Maple Syrup Operations


This guide to managing a maple syrup operation provides many sets resources to help you make decisions about getting started, and expanding or upgrading your enterprise. It makes heavy use of media, so be sure to have the following, or compatible substitutes:

Maple Syrup Operations

PDF Documents

  •  The Life of a Sugar Maple Tree

    Cornell University Professor Jim Lassoie, with Professor Valerie Luzadis from the School of Environmental Science and Forestry at the State University of NY, have researched and prepared a succinct and authoritative overview of the Life of a Sugar Maple Tree. This is essential reading for any prospective maple producer.

  •  Marketing Maple Syrup and Maple Products

    Cornell Cooperative Extension Educator Jim Ochterski, in his well researched guide to marketing special forest products in New York State, offers a unit on Marketing Maple Syrup and Maple Products As important as understanding your tree is understanding your market, thus another essential read early in your investigation of maple entrepreneurship.

Power Point Presentation

New York State Extension Forester, Peter Smallidge, who is also a member of the NY Maple Team and the Director of Cornell University’s Arnot Teaching and Research Forest where maple has been produced and researched for many years, provides a tutorial on managing your sugar bush for optimal sap production and other forest values. 21 slides.

  •  Sugarbush Management
    Peter Smallidge, New York State Extension Forester
    Cornell Cooperative Extension – Cornell University

Maple Syrup Operations


[Video]  Watch the Maple Videos [mp4]

Maple producer Chuck Winship takes you on a tour of SugarBush Hollow. This is a commercially oriented maple operation in the Finger Lakes area of New York State which Chuck began in the late 1990s. Chuck is continually researching and inventing ways of improving his state-of-the-art enterprise which is rooted in agroforestry (forest farming) principles. His insights and approach will be useful to anyone who is beginning or expanding an operation, regardless of its size or sophistication. The video consists of five segments, which total about ˝ hour in length, as follows:

1. An Overview of Maple Production (1m 28s, 5 MB)
2. Sugar Bush Management (video not available)
3. Sap Collection (3m 19s, 21 MB)
4. Sap Processing (3m 59s, 24 MB)
5. Maple Product Marketing (8m 10s, 37 MB)

6. Additional videos:

Maple Syrup Operations

Web Resources

The Basics

  •  Maple Syrup Production for the Beginner

    A guide for the beginner provides an overview by Cornell and Penn State University specialists of what is involved in a maple operation, in 4 pages.

  •  Virtual Tours

    The production of maple syrup is described in four Virtual Tours through the use of photographs and text assembled by the Cornell Maple Team, and arranged as follows:

    1. the historical view of maple production
    2. sugar bush management
    3. sap collection
    4. sap processing

Going Deeper

If you are serious about becoming a maple producer, these two key sources of information will help see you through:

  •  North American Maple Syrup Producers Manual (Ohioline Bulletin #856)

    This “classic” was published in 1996, and prepared through a cooperative effort of maple experts from multiple States and Provinces in the Northeast.

  •  Cornell Sugar Maple Research & Extension Program

    The Cornell Maple Team is responsible for this dynamic new web site which is continually updated with new information about that latest techniques and technologies for the modern maple enterprise.

On these sites you will find many references to others. Pursue these as your interest dictates.