With spring weather finally arriving, maple sugar producers are busy, Dave Rennie told Geauga County Commissioners at the March 26 meeting. "This year the season…
With spring weather finally arriving, maple sugar producers are busy, Dave Rennie told Geauga County Commissioners at the March 26 meeting.
“This year the season started slow,” said the owner of Richards Maple Products in Chardon. “We had 20 inches of frost on the ground and are about half-way in the production season. We need freezing nights and warmer days.”
He said the season won’t net a sweet harvest like the past two years. According to him, the 2013 production season ran for eight weeks, instead of the usual four to six weeks.
The native of California said he fell into his job by falling in love with his wife, a Richards, years ago.
The couple moved here in 1974. They took over the business in the 1990s from Paul Richards. Rennie said he hopes his niece will take it over from him when he retires.
“Had I known about the snowbelt, I might not have moved here,” he said. “I don’t understand it. Everyone still comes back after they move away.”
He said the price of maple syrup jumped to its present level of $59 a gallon, in part from the economic recession and because new food grade stainless steel equipment significantly increased the cost to producers.
He said the average small producer has to spend about $5,700 for equipment, which priced some out of the business when it came time to replace or upgrade their equipment.
“It didn’t pay to replace the equipment so some just stopped producing,” he said. “I don’t think we had a problem with contamination among Geauga producers, but we wanted to be proactive.”
He said many of the dairy farmers who produced the syrup were already familiar with cleaning their equipment. He noted his business is careful about the suppliers it buys from.
A resident asked if the price will drop, assuming today’s producers have already bought their new equipment.
“No,” Rennie said. “The majority of syrup is made in Canada. They’re like the oil cartel. They set the prices everyone else follows.”
He explained the rising cost of fuel, ranging from propane to wood also increased the price.
“The producers didn’t used to include the cost of their time to cut the wood, but today, they do, just like in any manufacturing process,” Rennie said.
Another change in the industry is a new rating system for the syrup. He pointed to a poster-size chart he brought.
“This is my PowerPoint presentation,” he joked.
Rennie said the syrup was graded as light, medium and dark. But, under the new system, it will be gauged as Grade A: Golden, Grade B: Rich Taste, Grade C: Robust and a final Grade D: Strong, with the last category recommended for cooking.
A resident asked if there was a difference between syrup made in Ohio and that made in Vermont.
“Good syrup is good syrup,” he answered. “But, we know Geauga makes the best syrup.”
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