September 27, 2023

Oklahoma’s STILLWATER – By examining the state’s maple syrup production, researchers from Oklahoma State University want to capitalize on a $132 million industry’s potential.

4.37 million gallons of maple syrup are produced annually in the United States, however Oklahoma presently has no maple syrup business. For this reason, Oklahoma State University associate horticulture professor Lu Zhang and her team are spending the summer traveling to maple groves all across the state.

We wanted to see if maple syrup collecting was feasible because there is a significant maple producing business in the northern U.S., but not here, Zhang explained.

Oklahoma has five native maple tree species: sugar maple, red maple, silver maple, boxelder, and Florida maple. At least 15 counties in Oklahoma are home to silver maple and sugar maple, the two maple species most frequently utilized to make syrup. The other four Oklahoma species also have the potential to be collected, according to Zhang’s preliminary study findings on sugar maple syrup.

5.8 million potential taps for the five maple species exist in Oklahoma, according to Zhang. It’s crucial to investigate the potential of different maple species for producing syrup in various regions.

This summer, OSU researchers and Extension experts will travel to maple groves in Idabel, Talihina, and Quapaw to establish them as sap gathering areas for study thanks to a $500,000 funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Native American tribes in Oklahoma have long harvested sugar maple tree sap for specific purposes. Zhang has established a partnership with the Choctaw Nation to investigate the production of syrup with the help of his colleagues Bob Heinemann, the director of the OSU Kiamichi Forestry Research Station, Mike Schnelle, an OSU professor and Extension specialist in ornamental and floraculture, and Lu Zhai, an assistant professor of natural resources.

The amount of maple sap that can be gathered annually from the five maple species using conventional buckets and bags, gravity-based tubing systems, and high-vacuum tubing systems will be determined, according to Zhang. “This initiative will provide answers to fundamental queries that landowners have before making a maple syrup investment. This may signal the beginning of Oklahoma’s maple syrup industry.

The dissemination of information about the possibilities of syrup manufacturing is the second component of the endeavor, according to Zhang. Through a regional maple tapping network that employs standardized tapping procedures for sap collection and data recording, researchers will produce and exchange information. This autumn, Schnelle will set up workshops on maple production to inform prospective syrup producers of the findings.

“I will be reaching out to landowners throughout the course of the next two years. Both those who currently have enormous trees and those who are just getting started are the types of folks I want to work with, Schnelle said. “Those who aren’t established can launch themselves into the future. People should be willing to wait years for maple trees to reach maturity if they are prepared to do so for pecan and chestnut trees.

Schnelle stated that he wants to encourage individuals to plant maple trees that can be used for both syrup production and decorative purposes. He also wants to encourage landowners who have maple trees but do not wish to collect syrup to rent out their property to those who do.

Michael Farrell, a specialist from New Leaf Tree Syrups, would instruct the research and Extension professionals in maple tapping, he and his colleagues promised. The Idabel and Talihina regions are starting to arrange the first round of their fall workshops.

“At the moment, we only use native maples, but I can see us introducing additional maples in the future. Long-term, this may be a fantastic initiative,” Schnelle remarked. “We’re thrilled by what we’ve observed and heard about people’s interest thus far. The concept of syrup created in Oklahoma is intriguing. I believe this has the potential to be a lucrative side business where people might make a nice income.

OSU Ag Research is the top organization for agricultural, natural resource, and life science research and technology development in Oklahoma.

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