High-tech tool helps Vt. sugar makers find leaks - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

High-tech tool helps Vt. sugar makers find leaks

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On a hillside in Milton, the Meadowbrook Maple Sugarhouse is gearing up for another sap run. There are 5,000 taps over the 106 acres, and miles and miles of tubing. Leaks are a chronic problem.

"Oh yeah, you got squirrels and limbs falling off, a lot of different things. This year has been bad because it's been so cold and it will help push the spout out. It can freeze hard and push the spout out so it's hard," said Donnie Richards of Meadowbrook Maple.

But this year he has a new tool to track down leaks, a system of sensors that report back to a computer in the sugarhouse. The sensors help pinpoint the leaks by measuring vacuum pressure. The lower the pressure, the more likely there is a leak. A green dot means great pressure, yellow means a potential problem and a red dot signals a leak. There are 13 solar-powered sensors in this sugarbush.

Before the system was installed, Richards had to walk the woods looking for leaks. It's like looking for a needle in a haystack and very time-consuming.

"This is one of the sensors that talks to the computer down in the sugarhouse," Richards said. "Each one of these lines goes to a certain main line. I labeled every main line in the woods and there is a map down there, this shows a yellow or a red down there. We look at the maple and come out with a four-wheeler and you have got it."

The system was designed by a fellow sugar maker and friend of Richards, Jason Gagne.

"Four years ago in Highgate, we have our own sugarbush-- 17,000 trees and miles and miles-- I couldn't walk it all every day. So, there has got to be a better way to find these leaks and walk these lines," Gagne said.

Gagne worked with a sugar maker in Ontario who hired a software designer. And now there are four systems in place in New Hampshire and Vermont. And the best part, he says, is there is now an app for that. That's right, a sap app.

"I'll come out and fix a leak, take my smartphone out and check. Oh yeah, I fixed it. Is there another one? Go to the next one," Richards said.

Richards says he has already noticed a bump in sap production. And when the season only runs 3-4 weeks, every hour, every tap is important.

"The woods is pretty good today," Richards said.

Meaning Meadowbrook Maple will be boiling late into the evening thanks to Mother Nature's warmer temperatures and some high-tech help.

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