With world-wide demand growing, maple syrup makers are in the enviable position of selling every drop they can produce. In his March 9, 2009, press release, U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer reported, "International Demand for Maple Syrup Is Skyrocketing..." And with folks from China and India just beginning to savor this unique North American foodstuff, demand will surely continue to increase; however, there are many choices an aspiring syrup-maker must ponder, because establishing a commercial sugaring operation can be an expensive undertaking.
How Much Syrup Will You Make?
A gallon of medium amber syrup generally retails in the $35 to $45 range. Produce 1,000 gallons and you'll earn around $40,000. During a normal sugaring season, the sap from each tap will yield about 1 quart of syrup. To produce 1,000 gallons, you'll need 4,000 taps. For comparison purposes only, a 1,000-gallon operation is considered to be medium-sized.
Buckets or Tubes?
If you set 4,000 taps using metal spiles and buckets, you'll need 4,000 of each. If you intend to build a plastic tap and tubing network you'll still require 4,000 taps, plus hundreds of feet of plastic tubing and a collection tank to where your tubing network will drain. New buckets retail for about $19 each. Bucket covers cost $4. Spiles run about $240 per 100. Used buckets with covers start at about $4.
If you have an outbuilding you can convert to a sugar house, you'll be spared the cost of constructing one, although you may need to add a cupola and seam vents in the roof. How large a sugar house you'll need will depend on the size of the evaporator you select.
Evaporators: New vs. Used
A new 2-by-6-foot evaporator and firebox will cost around $5,000, although used ones can be found. You'll need firebrick to line your firebox, and don't forget shipping costs. A 2-by-6-foot rig is quite small by commercial standards. If you intend to produce 1,000 gallons of syrup, you'll need something larger.
How will you fuel the evaporator: wood, heating oil or natural gas? If you have a woodlot you can save some money. If you don't, it's one more expense.
Trees to Tap
A 24-inch sugar maple can safely accommodate three taps. How many trees do you have on your property? Assuming you're going to hang 4,000 taps, you'll need access to roughly 1,400 trees of the size referenced. Or, do you intend to lease a sugarbush? As an example, in upstate New York, sugarbush leases for around $300 per acre, per year.
You'll need an auger for drilling tap holes: about $24.
Packaging and Labeling
A case of 1-gallon jugs and lids costs approximately $52. To bottle 1,000 gallons, you'll need 42 cases. Cost, roughly $2,200. Labels cost about $7 per 1,000.
Collection Vehicle and Tank
Do you own a truck? Do you own a tank in which you can collect your sap? It takes approximately 35 gallons of sap to produce a gallon of syrup. So you'll need to collect about 35,000 gallons to reach your 1,000-gallon target.
You're also going to need a filtering tank and bottling unit. Cost for the pair: $1,100. You'll need filters, a test cup, hydrometer, grading kit and thermometer. Another $300 to $400 should cover those.
The Grand Total
Assuming you purchase some new and some used equipment along with a slightly used truck but don't require a new building, start-up costs for a commercial maple syrup operation capable of producing 1,000 gallons will total about $40,000.
Note: All equipment prices/figures quoted were current as of Oct.1, 2009.
Rich Finzer earned his boating license in 1960 and started his writing career in 1969. His writing has appeared in "Northern Breezes," "Southwinds," "Living Aboard," "Good Old Boat," "Latitudes & Attitudes," "Small Craft Advisor," "Life in the Finger Lakes," "BackHome" and "Dollar Stretcher" magazines. His maple syrup has won awards in competition. Rich has a Bachelor of Science in communications from Ithaca College.