Green Machines: How new technology is changing the maple syrup industry

Last year was a record-breaking year for the maple industry in Vermont, producing 2.5M gallons of syrup,
Published: Jan. 30, 2023 at 6:28 AM EST
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EDEN, Vt. (WCAX) - Last year was a record-breaking year for the maple industry in Vermont, producing 2.5 million gallons of syrup, a bit more than half of the production in the United States. And what could be more Vermont than the maple industry going green? High-Brix reverse osmosis machines that help efficiently produce maple were rolled out in 2018. Since then, Efficiency Vermont said more and more have been put into operation.

These days, the operations at Goodrich’s Maple Farm in Eden look a bit different than when they began in the 1700s. The farm is home to 6,000 acres with up to 150,000 trees to tap. It’s also where Glenn Goodrich said they would be consuming 250,000 gallons of fuel if not for their High-Brix reverse osmosis machines, which bring fuel oil consumption down to 10,000 to 12,000 gallons.

“We get the same nice maple flavor as nearly 200 years ago and we can do it in an efficient and responsible way,” said Goodrich.

Goodrich bought the first machine in 2018 and since then has purchased three more, costing hundreds of thousands of dollars apiece. But the more machines they have, the more trees they’re able to tap. That’s a huge advantage for their staff of five. “We’ve invested more money, so we’re still waiting -- that’s the nature of agriculture. We set out on this venture to tap as many as 150,000 trees, and we’re getting close. We’re 120,000 on this site,” said Goodrich. He also says it helps with production. The machine raises the sugar content in sap quicker so they don’t have to boil for as long.

John Ho with Efficiency Vermont said they’ve worked on about 70 maple projects in 2018, generating an estimated savings of about 76,000 gallons of fuel oil. “The trend is there that we’ll see a larger adoption of the technology and hopefully the technology itself will start to advance some more to be able to help keep up with the demand for it,” said Ho.

While High-Brix reverse osmosis machines are still for larger producers due to the cost and size. They say they’ve seen an overall increase in sugarmakers adopting hybrid technologies like vacuum pumps and steam-enhanced preheaters. “It gets to a point where really the cost of operation and the fuel that’s needed to do the boiling for creating the syrup gets to be a point where you really need to find efficiencies to be profitable in the space,” said Ho.

And this winter, Goodrich said they’ve already produced at least 33 barrels of syrup. But they still rely on the weather to do their job. During an early season warm-up, the team at Goodrich’s Maple Farm checked their systems and collected, concentrated, and boiled sap to make the sweet stuff. They were already able to create at least 2,000 gallons of sap this winter.

Despite it feeling unusual, Goodrich says it’s actually not odd to have an off-season production experience in the Vermont winter. “The unusual part is because we tap the trees so early -- we can collect the sap -- where historically we didn’t collect any sap before the first part of March because we didn’t drill the hole,” he said.

He said it was a chance to get in the woods and work out the start-of-the-season kinks.

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