With more than 400 million maple trees, it’s no wonder maple syrup is one of the fastest-growing industries in West Virginia.
To help keep the momentum and overcome challenges, a team of West Virginia University experts wants to educate landowners, foresters and loggers on the nuances of southern sugarbush management.
According to Jamie Schuler, lead researcher and associate professor of silviculture in the Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design, continuing to grow the industry requires increasing the number of tapped maple trees.
“West Virginia has more total tappable trees than Vermont, but there are several barriers that limit participation in maple syrup production,” he said.
Those barriers include limited landowner awareness as well as misinformation about forest resources and perceived forest management or harvesting principles.
With the help of a new grant from the United States Department of Agriculture Agricultural Marketing Service, the team will work to make the state even more “maple friendly” by providing interested landowners with assistance in assessing their forests for maple syrup production.
“Many landowners in the eastern United States are unfamiliar with the potential their forests offer,” Schuler said. “They don’t realize their woods can be turned into a personally satisfying, physically rewarding and revenue-generating syrup operation.”
He stressed landowners who go through the assessment process won’t be obligated or pressured to tap their trees or harvest timber.
“We simply want to show the importance of understanding the resource, potential management options and promote monitoring programs to limit threats to our natural resource,” Schuler said.
In addition to forest assessments, the team will develop sugarbush management guides designed to provide up-to-date and Appalachian-specific information.
“Sugarbush management guidelines are generally written regionally,” he said. “However, research indicates maple-dominated forests in southern ranges are compositionally different than forests in New England.”
In other words, what affects West Virginia’s maple trees and its syrup producers is not the same as in New England.
“Our climate, weather patterns and seasons are different,” Schuler explained.
The team’s educational efforts will extend beyond landowners to include land managers and loggers to help them identify and understand sugarbush potential in the forests where they work.
“Given the historical and current emphasis on timber management, very few foresters in our region have formal training related to managing forests for sap production,” he said. “We’ll train them to identify potential sugarbushes and demonstrate ways they can use this information as value-added services for landowners.”
The benefits of providing educational opportunities to landowners and professionals?
“Empowering both groups with the necessary tools to help sustain healthy, productive forests that are more resilient and produce more sap,” Schuler said. “This will be another step forward for the maple syrup industry in our state.”