GOWANDA - Senator Charles E. Schumer (D-NY) is interested in New York's untapped potential, literally.
"New York's the home to more than 280 million maple trees with tapping potential according to the great researchers at Cornell University," Schumer said in a conference call Wednesday. "It's no wonder that the sugar maple's our official state tree."
With the Farm Bill coming up for in 2012, Schumer announced he will be introducing The Maple Tap Act to be included in the bill.
"I'm introducing legislation, it's called the Maple Tap Act, that provides the United States Department of Agriculture grants of up to $20 million a year to states that create programs to encourage individual land owners to open up their trees to maple tapping," Schumer said. "How did we choose these ideas? Because they've worked in Canada. This is how Canada greatly expanded its maple production, by doing just this. The much needed grants are a new addition to the legislation making this bill a bigger boost to the industry and to New York's economy."
According to Schumer, while New York state has more maple trees than Canada, our neighbor to the north controls 85 percent of the maple syrup worldwide and produce 20 times more maple syrup than New York. One of the reasons is that New York maple farmers are currently tapping fewer than 1 percent of the state's maple trees.
"It doesn't have to be that way because New York has nearly 200 million more potential taps than all of Canada," Schumer said. "Right now, according to the Cornell analysis, more than $82 million in potential revenue is stuck in the trees across the state just waiting to be let out. This $12 million annual industry could grow to $93 million a year which would boost rural economic development throughout New York State and all we need to do is tap more of our trees."
According to Schumer, one of the largest impediments to increasing production of maple syrup is that 68 percent of tapable trees are on private land, creating a barrier to maple farmers.
"Demand for maple syrup both here and abroad is far outpacing supply," Schumer said. "It's driving prices to record levels. Maple syrup's become extremely popular. New York is well positioned to seize this piping hot economic opportunity, creating buckets of new jobs along the way. ... I'm focused like a laser on finding creative ways to help upstate New York realize our economic potential and create jobs cause the upstate voters have said jobs is number one."
For Paul Lesefske, owner of the Maple Glen Sugar House in Gowanda, this act could help help almost double the amount of taps he currently has.
"It definitely would benefit somebody like myself and I've been for it since day one.," Lesefske said. "So, if it all comes together, that would be great."
All of the 4,000 taps that feed Maple Glen are on private property already. With money from the proposed grants, Lesefske said he would consider looking at a 10 to 15 mile radius around Gowanda for more property owners willing to let him tap their maple trees.
"It all depends on how much the larger land owners would consider taking advantage of that and allowing us to lease their particular property," he said. "I'm against logging, but when a logger comes in to log a particular wood lot off and it happens to be primarily maples, I'm not gonna see those trees ever again in my lifetime - to reach maturity, to be able to go in and tap those trees. We need, hopefully, some landowners that will take advantage of this and say, 'No, I don't wanna cut the trees, I wanna save 'em and use 'em for the sap production.'"
At MRC Farms - Pure Maple Products in Sinclairville, co-owner Ken Morley said if he had the opportunity to use grant money to tap more trees, he probably would.
"I don't think I have any objections to it," Morley said. "Probably we would have to upgrade a little bit on our evaporator. It wouldn't be major. There's additions you can put on an evaporator to get to that point."
Currently MRC Farms uses a vacuum tubing system and has 2,700 taps on its property and an additional 4,000 taps on leased property.
"The sap lines we do during the winter," Morley said. "We all have full time jobs and we do it on the weekends. The last two winters, one wood we bought, we did the whole thing - that's the 2,700 taps - and this past winter we rebuilt a whole woods - tore the whole system out and put a new system in. To do another woods, say somebody came up to us and said, 'Hey we've got this fantastic woods, you wanna come look at it?' ... we (would) spend next winter putting taps in that and getting that ready."
"They say money doesn't grow on trees, but apparently it does grow inside them," Schumer said. "And I love maple syrup. ... As I read this to you, I'm thinking of a nice stack of pancakes with maple syrup coming down the sides. But alas, it is not here. All I have is this paper.
"So simply put, I believe New York can become the global leader in the maple industry and we have a plan to make it happen," Schumer said.
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A region by region breakdown of potential revenue from untapped maple trees in New York State:
Western New York - 21 million potential new taps, $6 million in revenue
Southern Tier - 70 million potential taps, $22 million in revenue
Capital Region - 35 million potential new taps, $10 million in revenue
Rochester, Finger Lakes Region - 11.6 million potential new taps, $3 million in revenue
Central New York - 45 million potential new taps, $13 million in revenue
Hudson Valley - 26 million potential new taps, $8.7 million in revenue
North Country - 70 million potential new taps, $19 million in revenue