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WCAX: Federal Funds Help VT. Sugar Makers

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East Montpelier sugar maker Burr Morse hasn't boiled so far this season, but when he does he'll need far less wood to run his evaporator than in years past.

"We used to burn up to three tractor-trailer loads of wood chips in a season and now-- we went through about a half of one last year," Morse said.

New equipment like an evaporator with a Steam Away installed on top to recapture some heat from the boil has helped Morse reduce energy consumption by up to 30 percent.

"The Steam Away unit is really going to increase efficiency," Morse said.

The equipment-- and other equipment like it-- was made possible by USDA's REAP program, or Rural Energy for America. Congressman Peter Welch joined USDA and state agriculture officials at Morse Farm to highlight provisions in the new farm bill, like the REAP program, designed to help Vermont sugar makers.

"It's going to make it much easier for some of our small Vermont farmers, including sugar makers, to apply for grants to make their operations more energy efficient," said Welch, D-Vermont.

Under the $50 million program, sugar makers can use grant money that funds 25 percent of a total project's cost, up to $250,000. It's money that can be used on a reverse-osmosis machine that concentrates the sap's sugar content, requiring less boiling.

And the grants have been popular.

"We have a lot of maple producers that come to us, so they can get a grant or they can get a guaranteed loan, or they can get both," said Cheryl Ducharme of USDA Rural Development.

Since 2005, the federal grants have funded about 120 Vermont projects. Welch says additional funding in the farm bill, some $20 million for the Maple Tap Act, targets marketing and research, like the kind going on at UVM's Proctor Maple Research Center.

"There's no industry including sugar making that can stand on its laurels and not innovate and not research to find out what are better ways that we can do what we're doing," Welch said.

Technology and efficiency to help keep Vermont on top in the maple-sugaring world.

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