First-Time Maple Producers Go 'Full Throttle'

3/8/2014 7:00 AM
By Paul Post New York Correspondent

GLENS FALLS, N.Y. — Mike Bennett and Laura Trudeau couldn’t have picked a better name for their new maple syrup operation: Full Throttle Sugaring.

“That’s kind of how we go,” Bennett said, smiling. “Wide open.”

For the past few years, the Glens Falls, N.Y., couple have spent most of their time consulting and setting up maple operations for other people, with taps numbering in the tens of thousands.

This year, for the first time, they’ve established their own 10,000-tap sugarbush on three leased parcels totaling 800 acres in Ellenburg, Clinton County, near the Canadian border.

“That’s my passion, working in the woods to make sap,” Bennett said.

He planned to begin tapping trees Friday, a late start for the industry, because of unusually cold temperatures that fell to well below zero earlier in the week. The best conditions for sugaring are daytime highs of 35-40 degrees; in the 20s at night.

Bennett and Trudeau will sell their sap to Parker Family Maple Farm in West Chazy, which they’ve done considerable work for in the past. Once sap is boiled down into syrup, Bennett and Trudeau will market their product under the Full Throttle label at fairs, farmers markets and festivals from the Adirondacks to the Mid-Hudson Valley.

Bennett cited a loan from Farm Credit East’s FarmStart program for making the couple’s new venture possible.

“They give you money with little assets to get you up on your feet,” he said. “It was the perfect thing for us. They understood the economics of maple syrup. They were very easy to talk to because they understood the language.”

The couple matched each dollar they got from Farm Credit East with 50 cents of their own.

“We put everything we ever saved into this project,” Bennett said.

Most of the money was spent on tubing, a risky move because each new operation is customized to fit the sugarbush. If the business fails, tubing can’t be resold the same as mechanics such as pumps and sap collection tanks.

But this couple has a great deal of experience and a proven track record of success. Quite simply, they aren’t new to the game.

Previously, they’ve done several jobs for Leader Evaporator Co. and CDL USA in northern Vermont, and a couple of years ago they set up a huge new system for Crown Maple in Dutchess County, N.Y., a large producer that supplies the New York City market.

Quite often in farming relationships, women manage the business side of things. However, Trudeau works side by side with Bennett setting up lines and tapping in the woods.

“We’re hands-on partners,” Bennett said. “There are women in the industry, but not many are in the sugarbush every day. Laura works right with me, setting taps and stringing lines.”

They mapped out the sugarbush last summer and spent seven weeks beginning in January installing tubing and lines. They each have their own favorite parts of the business, too. Trudeau likes helping out with the sugarhouse boiling process, while Bennett would rather stay in the woods overseeing sap collection.

They don’t want to build their own sugarhouse, which would take time, money and labor away from tapping.

By next year, with another Farm Credit East loan, they hope to more than double production to 25,000 taps.

For Bennett, it’s a big dream for a kid who started out at 12 years old collecting neighborhood sap with 3-liter plastic soda bottles nailed to a tree.

“I made my own spouts by whittling out sumac,” he said. “I wish I still had one of those.”

Bennett grew up in Granville, N.Y., right on the New York-Vermont state line, which is considered prime maple country. He’ll never forget his first crop.

“It was gritty, it was black, it was smoky tasting. I was the only one who would eat it,” he said, laughing.

Now, maple production is his life, and Trudeau’s. The couple met in 2009 at Merck Forest & Farmland Center in Rupert, Vt., where Bennett was hired to manage its sugar-making operation.

Bennett is a New York Maple Producers Association board member and was recently assigned to an association task force charged with working with the state’s Department of Agriculture & Markets on maple-related issues.

As a kid, he remembers getting scolded by his mother for tracking mud in the house during maple sugaring season. Now, of course, she’s proud of him.

“My mother tells me today, If I’d known how far this was going to take you, I never would have complained,’” he said, smiling.

For information about FarmStart, go to the website, https://www.farmcrediteast.com/farmstart.


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