Old and new tech combined to change maple industry

UNDERHILL, Vt. (WCAX) Old school and new technology are working together to change the way sugarers think about processing sap.

Traditionally when sap runs, sugarers have to boil so the sap doesn't sit and go bad.

"At this time of year we would normally have boiled 15 to 20 times," said Tim Perkins. "This is our fourth boil this year."

At the University of Vermont's Proctor Maple Research Center, sugarers are able to boil whenever they want.

"We're getting more sap because we're able to spend more time in the woods," Perkins said.

It's not new tech that's changing their game.

Sitting on the second floor of Proctor's sugarhouse is an old refrigerated bulk tank from a dairy farm. Sap is able to sit there for days.

"It's still very, very cold and fresh," said Perkins.

Total time spent boiling is about the same, but they can schedule it. It's typically been Friday. Since the equipment needs to be cleaned after each time they boil, it's fewer hours spent cleaning.

"If you have either a second job or a first job and you're doing maple as a second job, or have to start hiring help, this way you'd cut down on the amount of help you'd need," Perkins said.

The Proctor team is not the first to refrigerate sap so they don't have to boil right away, but their process is different.

Proctor has a high-brix reverse osmosis machine. It squeezes out more of the water from sap and brings up the sugar content quicker. Industry leaders say a regular reverse-osmosis machine can get the sugar content up to about 20 percent. High-brix reverse osmosis can do more than 30.

That means Proctor sugarers don't have as much sap to boil, or to store, letting them use the smaller-sized dairy tank.

"Most dairy tanks are maybe 500 to 1,000 gallons tops," said Mark Isselhardt, who works with producers through the research center.

Isselhardt says larger, refrigerated storage tanks cost more.

"They come from farther away and are harder to find," he said.

Combining the fancy high-brix machine with an old school dairy tank could change the way sugarers think about getting the job done.

"It's been a tremendous revolution for us in the way we process sap," said Perkins.