Keeping up with changes: Loudon farm does first boil thanks to early, big sap run

By on Jan 27, 2017 in Stories |

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The Moore family may not be big on the term “climate change.” But the Loudon farmers have seen changes in the maple season, invasive species and forest regeneration over time. And they’re learning everything they can to adapt.

This year, for instance, has brought an extended January thaw. And while it’s normal for a day or two to be significantly warmer than usual this time of year, temperatures that sometimes touch 50 degrees for a week and a half is unusual.

“It’s not just a little sap run,” 28-year-old Jeff Moore said.

Jeff Moore checks on equipment during the first sap boil of the season at Windswept Maples Farm in Loudon Thursday.

In response, Jeff, his 26-year-old brother, Brad, and their father, Larry, all bustled around the Windswept Maples Farm sugar shack Thursday to get their evaporator up and running. They boiled about 6,000 gallons of sap collected over the previous week in a network of taps, tubing and holding containers.

By the wee hours of Friday morning, they had 125 gallons of maple syrup.

Brad said the three men began making preparations Tuesday, locating packed-away parts, getting finicky equipment to work, and shifting all the settings just right.

“I guess the challenge is, you feel like you’re ready or you feel like you’re behind,” Brad said. This year, he added, they felt behind. With sap running not just one or two days, but many days in a row, the men scrambled between tapping more trees and getting the vacuum pressure just right.

Then there’s the sugar shack set up.

On Thursday, they were still trying to get the de-foaming device up and going so they didn’t burn pans, or hit stop-and-go patches while boiling sap.

“It’s actually lost – we don’t know where it is,” Brad said.

Jeff Moore stirs diatomaceous earth into the first maple syrup of the season, helping remove debris and other matter before sending the syrup through final filtration.

They eventually found that and got the whole process going. The Moores boiled through most of the night Thursday and, because the sap ran again, boiled once more on Friday.

As Jeff Moore adjusted valves and looked into the steaming sap Thursday, he explained that they would probably pause Saturday to go to the New Hampshire Maple Producers Association annual meeting.

Bruce Treat, the treasurer for the organization, said the season’s volatility will definitely be a subject of conversation. Several University of New Hampshire professors will be there to discuss climate change, a more common topic among sugarers these days.

“I think more and more sugar producers, maple producers are agreeing that the climate is changing now – whether it’s a permanent change or not,” Treat said. “They all are astute observers of nature – the volatility in the weather is getting impressive.”

Scientific evidence for the trend has been labeled as “unequivocal” by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Data shows carbon dioxide, a heat-trapping gas, rising at an unprecedented rate since 1950 and “very likely human-induced.”

Brad Moore said the term “climate change” is now in the back of his mind. But it hasn’t necessarily changed the way he and his family proceed with their farming practices.

A holding tank for sap sits on the back of a truck next to some cows at Windswept Maples Farm in Loudon Thursday.

After eight generations of Moores at Windswept Maples, Jeff Moore said the goal has always been to maintain the farm for future generations. That means best practices for tapping and forest conservation, plus taking advantage of new technology.

“This is something that’s been for the long-term health of our industry, our trees,” he said. Jeff pointed to a new screen in the office window in the sugar shack, which showed data collected through a vacuum pressure monitoring system.

The software, he said, helps pinpoint exactly how much sap is flowing and where there might be a leak. Jeff said it helps keep production consistent while eliminating guesswork – and unnecessary tap holes.

The screen of a remote vaccum monitor system glows through Windswept Maples Farm’s sugar shack office window. The software program helps the Moore family keep an eye on when and where there might be a leak in their tubing, creating efficiency, consistency, and in the end, less pressure on individual trees.

“The only thing that’s going to prevent me from making syrup when I’m 80 is less wounding in the tree,” he said.

Moore said his family is responding to other new maple producer concerns –maintaining tree canopy to reduce invasive species plant growth, and as a by product, supporting healthy forest regeneration.

“Regardless of whether you believe in climate change,” Moore said, those others issues – the invasive species sprawling over deforested land, for instance – are undoubtedly human-caused.

Oakley the dog sits in the sugar shack chair at Windswept Maples Farm in Loudon Thursday.

“Some of our practices as farmers have helped with some of that,” Moore said. And now, he and other farmers are examining their practices to adapt to and try to reverse those trends. This happens by attending meetings like the one on Saturday, or just consulting with other, nearby, maple producers.

With an open mind and desire for continuing education, Moore said, “I think that’s how some of the change – (good change) – occurs.”