This article was republished with the permission of the Berlin Daily Sun and writer Edith Tucker. The Community Forest thanks them both.
By Edith Tucker
The Berlin Daily Sun
JEFFERSON — Fuller’s Sugarhouse, a commercial maple sugar business in Lancaster, has expanded its operation onto the Randolph Community Forest (RCF), a 10,000-plus-acre tract owned by the town of Randolph.
“At our new sugarhouse, we can fill a 55-gallon drum with maple syrup in 21 minutes — or a gallon in 20 to 30 seconds,” explained owner-operator Dave Fuller of Lancaster. “But what’s most important is that we’re making the superior quality maple syrup that we want to produce from our sap. We’ve always embraced technology cautiously, because we’ve not been interested in a so-so product but only in making the best.” Fuller also runs a wholesale maple sugar equipment operation, selling to sugarmakers in both N.H. and Vermont.
Eleven hundred acres of the RCF — once owned by the pulp-and-papermaking Brown Company — is located on the west side of the town of Jefferson, north of Route 2. That’s where Fuller has leased 723 acres, giving Fuller’s Maple Farm, LLC the right to tap its maple trees and install plastic tubing.
When the town created its community forest in 2001, it was assumed that the dollars needed to maintain the existing 26 miles of woods roads, replace aging and undersized culverts, plus meeting other expenses, would be generated by well-planned timber harvests, designed to enhance sawlog production over time, wildlife habitat and recreational opportunities.
Annual expenses also include a Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) of some $600 to Jefferson and now a $5,000 PILT to Randolph. It was a New York entrepreneur who first realized that a portion of the RCF could become an outstanding sugarbush.
The town’s Forest Commission decided to look into the idea, sought advice from its forester, held a public hearing and then decided to put out a request for proposals (RFP). Two outfits submitted proposals and following a public interview process, in Oct. 2015 the Commission selected Fuller’s.
The Commission and Fuller signed a contract patterned on one used by the state Division of Forest and Lands when leasing state-owned properties for maple tapping. The Commission now charges $1 a tap but a multiplier clause likely will increase the cost. Dave Fuller recently recalled how pleased he was to find that two of the five commissioners — chairman John Scarinza and Jeff Parker — tap maple trees themselves on a relatively small scale, giving them a “nuts and bolts” understanding of such an operation.
Fuller explained that well before he signed the 15-year lease he’d talked to the bank he uses to be sure that he could secure a good-sized loan to build a 40- by 80-foot sugarhouse on land he purchased on Route 2 in Jefferson near the town line. Most recently a combined vegetable-growing and replacement window operation had been located there.
There was no need for him to go to the Jefferson Planning Board, however, since sugarmaking is an agricultural use. “This is the fourth sugarhouse I’ve planned and built, and almost certainly the last,” Fuller said. “It’s as close to perfect as we could get it. There’s 1,000 feet of piping inside, and the lettering doesn’t show at all! My foreman, Tom Hatfield of Jefferson, is as much a stickler for detail as I am — if not more.”
Six men worked in the woods last summer to install 100,000 feet of larger-diameter main piping, and last fall five workers aimed to add some half-million feet of smaller 5/16th-diameter feeder pipe. The red-roofed sugarhouse, in addition to all the stainless steel equipment needed for all aspect of the boiling operation, has space for three 6,000-gallon holding tanks, giving Fuller’s 18,000 gallons of storage.
Fuller’s has 12 full-time, year-round workers, including some family members such as Dave and Patti Fuller’s 38-year-old son James who came on board last year. “I added another full-time worker when I took on the RCF,” he said. “I’m always looking for good workers.” Some are graduates of the natural resources program at White Mountain Regional High School in Whitefield.
“There are areas under lease that we haven’t walked yet; my best guess is that we’ll have in the neighborhood of 30,000 taps before we’re done,” Fuller said. Maple sugaring is not for the faint of heart. In addition to the expected vagaries of New England weather, the Canadian exchange rate is always an important factor that can affect the bottom line. Maple production is a major industry in Quebec that, in essence, allows the Province to set the price. Right now the rate is not favorable to U.S.-based businesses. Wildlife, including moose, also takes a toll on tubing.
Both Fuller and Parker pointed out that the RCF operates under local control and decision-making. In contrast, someone seeking to tap maple trees on the White Mountain National Forest (WMNF) must be able to invest a substantial sum of money plus considerable time in order to comply with the assessment requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).
Scarinza noted that the sugaring lease provides the RCF with a second source of income that doesn’t rely on the day-to-day wood markets. “It’s a long-term source of annual income to help cover the Forest’s operating budget,” he said. “And we’re helping to add to the region’s job base and employment opportunities.”
Everyone involved with the leased project is pleased that research plots have been set up to specifically study the effect, if any, of tapping smaller-diameter maple trees. Observations are being recorded as well as samples, including taking starch from tree roots.