New Hampshire syrup king, author make a sweet pair
A Bascom Maple Farms employee fills large jugs of maple syrup at the Alstead business Friday afternoon. (Meghan Pierce/Union Leader Correspondent)
"The maple industry has got great potential," owner Bruce Bascom said Friday.
"We buy 50 times what we produce," Bascom said.
While the large producers are trucking in large barrel drums of maple syrup. "the small producers are bringing in 5-gallon pails," he said.
From the Netherlands to New Zealand, maple syrup is in demand, and Bascom ships it all over the world.
There is also a new specialty market that desires natural sweeteners and organic products.
Whynott is an author, journalist and professor of literature at Emerson College. He knew very little about the maple syrup industry before he moved to Langdon with his wife in 1997. As a local elementary school teacher, his wife went to a sugar house on a field trip geared toward teaching the children about the local agriculture business. Whynott and his wife started visiting sugar houses in the region and learned more about the culture of sugaring. Then, four years ago, Whynott heard of the threat of the longhorned beetles on the tree population.
The conversation soon veered into other aspects of the industry, and Whynott was intrigued. He started spending time at Bascom's, observing the production line and boiling room and going into the woods where employees check the plastic tubing that collects the sap.
The season was warm, but this year is turning out too cold and could mean a short spring and sugaring season.
Bascom, though, takes the weather in his stride. He is part of the fifth generation of his family to sugar on the property where he grew up and continues to live today.
There have been good years and years that were disastrous financially, he said, but the hope is always that it evens out. And it has, he said. The business is also about family and friendship. In years when the market is flooded with syrup, Bascom has taken out loans to buy from his regular producers. He doesn't need the extra syrup, but he appreciates the loyalty his producers have shown him, so he wants to return it. So even though the 2014 season hasn't started, Bascom still has a two-month supply of syrup in his refrigerated basement that can hold about 725,000 gallons of maple syrup.
One hundred years later, in the 1960s, the tide turned as technology started to make production cheaper and easier. New plastic tubing replaced buckets, and tractors started to replace horse power.
Reverse osmosis machines that reduce the water in the sap by 90 percent also save money on fuel before the sap is boiled into syrup in large modern-day evaporators.
"It's very much Vermont- and Quebec-dominated," Bascom said.
Quebec makes up 80 percent of the total world crop and Vermont makes up 10 percent, he said. Because of that, Canada sets market prices.
"I think New Hampshire producers are pretty optimistic right now," Bascom said.