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Sweet Tubes

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Swanton, Vermont - February 29, 2008

The classic picture of March in Vermont, when it's time to tap the maples, may be a sugarmaker hammering a tap into a tree and affixing a metal bucket.

But most major syrup producers now use tubes, not buckets, to get their sap to the sugarhouse. Tubes save on labor, time and can boost a tree's output. A great deal of the world's tubing network comes from Leader Evaporator in Swanton.

Gary Gaudette, the president of Leader Evaporator, says, "Of course, we're almost into the first of March, so our inventory is down pretty good."

The company's been making a complete line of sugaring equipment in Vermont since the late 1800s. Even though tubing's been around since the 1960s and 1970s, it wasn't until the 90s when Leader Evaporator saw a lot of Vermonters investing in systems.

The machine that produces tubing is called an extruder. It melts plastic pellets, mixing the material with dye and ingredients that protect it from sun damage. The device can create 100 feet of product a minute. And that keeps Matt Weld on his toes. He knows this stuff inside and out.

Weld says, "A lot of the stuff I have in my sugarhouse, I made here."

He's one of 40 workers here, but this is just his day job. He has 3,200 taps in Berkshire that produced some 900 gallons of syrup last year. Weld takes it seriously that his home state leads the world in maple production.

Weld says, "If I can make a good product here, I know I'm helping another sugar maker down the road get better and more efficient."

The tubing accounts for about 10 percent of Leader Evaporator's 5 or 6 million dollars a year in sales. Customers are in all the states chilly enough to produce syrup, and in Canada. But Leader does have stiff competition in the plastic tubing market from manufacturers in Quebec.

Gary Gaudette says, "I think the North American maple industry will continue to grow and grow and grow."

And this institution in the maple business will be there to supply sugarers with the "Made in Vermont" gear they need. Without Leader Evaporator, the upcoming season just wouldn't be as sweet.

Leader Evaporator tells us its plastic tubing tends to last several years, even more than a decade. But the company does say the maple industry is working on designing better systems for recycling old sections of pipeline.

Jack Thurston - WCAX News - Made in Vermont

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