# Sugar Maples: Syrup vs Timber?

Michael Courtney michael at helium
Tue Sep 23 07:46:54 EST 1997

OK, all you experts out there.  We've got about 100 sugar maples at our farm,
varying in diameter from 12" to 48" and in height from 60-80'.  They have
not yet been used for syrup production, but their location for it is ideal
because they are at the bottom of a ridge where the nighttime temperatures
are 5-10 deg F below the surrounding area.  The ridge faces east, so the
trees get the morning sun and the area warms up well on February and
March mornings and is shielded from the prevailing winds.

We're about to sell some timber from the farm and we're trying to decide
whether the maple trees are worth more as sugar producers or as timber.
My calculations based on an estimated yield of 10-20 gallons of sap from each
tree anually, a 40:1 sap to syrup boil down, and a maple syrup price of
\$64 a gallon if we package and retail the syrup ourselves at farmers markets
seem to indicate an annual revenue of \$16-\$32 per tree.  In a well-managed
syrup operation about half of that would be profit, so figure the maximum
possible profit to be \$16 per tree, with \$8 per tree more likely due to less
than optimum yields or management.  So 100 trees have the potential of
adding \$800 per year to our farm profits.  t

Now, the value of hard maple standing timber is about \$0.20/bf,
and a guesstimate for the average timber in each tree is 500 bf,
so figure the total value of the 100 trees is \$10,000.  So it
will take 13 years to make enough syrup to cover the value of what
we could sell the trees for today, but 13 years from now, we'll still
have the trees for future syrup production or timber use.

Of course, the farm has to decide how much it needs the immediate income,
and in a lot of ways, a \$ in the hand is worth more than two \$ in the tree.
We've got some desire to leave the area partially wooded, and the sugar
maples may be the most valuable trees to leave.  The area is a mix
of mostly tulip, cherry, hard maple, and soft maple with a few oak,
ash, hickory, and walnut.  I'm also leaning toward leaving the maple
trees because I'd like to make the maple syrup out of personal interest
and I think that maple syrup would be an item that attracts customers
to our on site farm stand and our booths at farmer's markets where they
would be inclined to buy our other products as well.  A low-profit
attractant like maple syrup, sweet corn, or fresh strawberries is
worthwhile because it helps us sell high-profit items like apple butter,
salsa, and grape jelly.

I'm consulting the experts because I'd like you to point out any glaring
errors in my analysis or considerations I may have omitted.
My consulting forester says she has done the analysis for people in the
past, and it always turns out that the long-term syrup production value
exceeds the immediate timber value of the trees.  Comments?

--
Michael Courtney, Ph. D.
michael at amo.mit.edu