New maple syrup sap method doesn't rely on forests

The maple sugar bush of the future may not look anything like a forest. Instead, it may resemble a field full of short, skinny wooden poles.

Technique can produce 10 times more maple syrup per acre

Modern maple syrup production involves attaching tubes to a forest of mature trees and applying suction to help draw the sap out. (CBC)

The maple sugar bush of the future may not be a forest of stately maple trees stretching their branches high overhead. Instead, it may be a field full of short, skinny wooden poles.

Timothy Perkins, director of the Proctor Maple Research Center at the University of Vermont, has come up with a new way to tap maple trees that could make it possible to produce 10 times more maple syrup per acre.

"We would be cutting the top off and pulling the sap directly out of the cut stem," Perkins told CBC-Radio's As It Happens Tuesday.

The trees would be much smaller – mere saplings – and planted in dense orchards.

University of Vermont researchers Abby van den Berg and Tim Perkins have developed a sap-collecting technique that involves cutting the top off a maple sapling and drawing the sap from the cut stem. (Sally McCay/University of Vermont)

Perkins said the technique works better on smaller trees, which will regrow their tops or crowns in the spring, after the maple syrup season is over.

The technique was discovered by accident. While traditional maple syrup production relies on gravity pulling the sap down and causing it to drip into a bucket, modern maple syrup farms use tubes attached to a vacuum to suck the sap out of the trees, boosting production. In all cases, the sap is boiled down to evaporate off a lot of water and produce maple syrup.

While the new technique would allow more maple syrup to be produced on less land, Perkins doesn't expect it to make maple syrup production cheaper in the short run because of the number of trees and sap collection devices involved.

"This new technique isn't meant to replace the traditional maple production methods," Perkins said. "It's made as an additional tool that maple producers can use in certain circumstances if needs dictate."

The new technique could allow the production of 10 times more maple syrup per acre. (Brian Snyder/Reuters)