Comparative Analysis of Four Maple Species for Syrup Production in South-Central Appalachia
Sugar maple (Acer saccharum L.) is a key cultural and economic resource from eastern Canada to south-central Appalachia. Environmental uncertainties could create problems for this iconic species, in particular affecting the southern extent of its range and thus increasing the need for alternative species in maple syrup production. To mediate uncertainties, some producers tap additional species, including box elder (Acer negundo L.), red maple (Acer rubrum L.), and silver maple (Acer saccharinum L.). For viable marketability, sap from alternative species should be comparable to sugar maple in volume and sugar concentration. In the 2016 and 2017 tapping seasons, data were collected on sap volume and sap sugar concentration (SSC) for each of these maple species. Sap parameter performance data revealed box elder and to a lesser extent silver maple as the most appropriate alternative species for syrup production in the south-central Appalachian region, while red maple, which is a commonly tapped species in northern regions, performed comparably in SSC but very poorly in sap volume in this study. Diversifying sap sources could provide additional sap and tree counts available to producers, allowing for more varied management strategies to mediate climatic variations and uncertainties. This diversification can also allow for industry expansion into areas without sufficient sugar maples and potentially create a new product niche in the maple industry, which can promote rural economic development in south-central Appalachia through ways compatible with other sustainable agroforestry and outdoor tourism efforts.
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