Training in Sustainable Systems Approach to Production, Harvesting, Processing and Marketing of Value Added Syrup Crops in MS and Surrounding States
Final Report to Southern Region SARE Professional Development Program 8/11/03.
“Training in sustainable systems approach to production, harvesting, processing and marketing of value-added syrup crops in Mississippi and surrounding States”.
Reporting Period; 8/1/99—————-4/1/03, Funding Amount—–$99,912
William B. Patton, Project Coordinator
Alcorn Cooperative Extension Program
1000 ASU Drive # 479
Alcorn State, MS. 39096
The ACEP Agronomy Program expanded in syrup crops due to a grant from SARE. The “Mill on Wheels” (engine powered mill for extracting juice and “Patton’s Modified Stubb’s (cooking) Pan on another trailer were used to take the training to advisory groups, conferences, tours, field days, county fairs, and workshops. Small Farmers produced sweet sorghum and sugarcane in supervised demonstration plots. Mechanical harvest, improved processing and marketing training was given to producers and professionals on their own syrup at scheduled festivals, fairs and field days throughout MS. LA, and AR. . Value adding by quality improvement and attractive containers merchandizing has quadrupled the price of syrup.
The Production of Sweet Sorghum for syrup in the United States dropped to 2.2 million gallons in 1959 and to 1.9 million gallons in 1960, according to the last dated data collected by the United States Department of Agriculture. The production of Sugarcane for syrup dropped to 3.6 million gallons in 1960 and to 2.6 million gallons in 1969, the last date data was collected. These cash crops have continued to decline as indicated by a fourteen (14) county extension survey in Mississippi by 1995 of 31 acres of Sweet Sorghum and 70 acres of Sugarcane and in 1997 of 14 acres of Sweet Sorghum and 48 acres of Sugarcane. In Mississippi this decline has been due to non-sustainable complex practices of production, harvesting, processing and marketing.
Producers, educators and researchers will become knowledgeable in specific components of a systems approach to sustainable cultural, harvesting, processing and marketing practices of syrup crops. They will learn to identify sustainable practices in production, harvesting, juice extraction, processing and marketing of syrup crops and value-added products that will enhance a successful system approach. They will become aware of potential value-added products from syrup crops.
Materials & Methods:
Alcorn Cooperative Extension Program provided leadership and coordinated training for this project. Collaborators in demonstrations and training were Syrup Producers and Extension/Research Professionals in Mississippi, Arkansas and Louisiana. Additional collaborators during the project were: the Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce, Mississippi State Fair Commission, Grand Gulf Military Park, Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Museum, Tunica County High School-FFA, Tri-County Fair-Marvel Arkansas, Neshoba County Fair, Sugarena Sugarcane Festival-New Iberia, LA., Louisiana Cooperative Extension Service, University of Arkansas-Pine Bluff Cooperative Extension Service, Alcorn State University, Mississippi Southern Bank, Port Gibson Bank, Hesselbein Tire Company, Morgan Portable Buildings, Heggin Portable Buildings, Dykes Meat Processing, Forrest Grocery, Hydraulic Supply and Mississippi Farm Bureau.
Local Extension Agents contacted individuals interested in syrup production and arranged local planning meetings, training meetings, production, harvesting and processing demonstration sites that coincided with other local events! Regional workshops and seminars were conducted during spring months to train producers and professionals in Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana. Resource persons for these workshops and seminars were producers & processors, and Extension/Research Professionals throughout the Southern United States. Multi-state Mechanical harvesting demonstrations were conducted utilizing three types of harvesters. Fairs, festivals and other county events were utilized to culminate twenty or more processing and marketing demonstrations through out Mississippi, Arkansas and Louisiana each year. Processors and Professionals were trained in juice handling and processing techniques during these events. Producers demonstrated marketing techniques as their own syrup was sold at higher prices in attractive plastic jugs during these same events.
Results and Discussion/Milestones:
This was a training project that utilized expertise of regional professionals, indigenous technical skills of producers & processors and existing research/extension publications. A manual was not produced since expertise rested in distant professionals and processing techniques vary according to individuals and cooking pans. “Syrup Making” is more of an ‘Art’ than a science and was treated so during this project! Bountiful expertise was presented during regional workshops, event demonstrations, in multiple existing publications and in developed publications to support any developing style of the ‘Art’ by participants! Agenda’s, publications and handouts for regional training workshops are attached for reference!
Impact of the results/Outcomes:
Over 2,194,060 people attended fairs, festivals, and field days where syrup harvesting, processing, and marketing demonstrations/training were presented. Two hundred twelve (212) small farmers participated in production/marketing demonstrations. Two hundred thirty-five (235) professionals were trained in Sustainable Syrup Crops. One hundred fifty five (155) beginning and seasoned syrup processors were trained in value added methods. Participants marketed $118,951.00 during marketing demonstrations and the syrup crop in Mississippi alone returned $2,561,603 to State wide producers during the four-year project. Since 1999 syrup price in these states has increased from $8.00 per gallon to $34.00 – $52.00 per gallon in attractive plastic quart & pint jugs. Thus, training in value adding has quadrupled the price of syrup.
This project had specific outreach in three states; Mississippi, Louisiana and Arkansas. And responded to numerous enquires about syrup crops and the project from six other states. This project conducted over 55-sustainable production demonstration of syrup crops on small farms. Conducted over 80-sustainable syrup processing and marketing demonstrations at festivals, fairs, field days and county events. Held four multi-State training workshops, two multi-State mechanical harvesting demonstrations, and three harvest equipment/ processing facility tours! Two hundred-(200) producers participated in training & demonstrations. Two hundred sixty five-(265) Professionals were trained in “Sustainable Syrup Crop Production, Harvesting, Processing and Marketing”. And four hundred ninety eight-(498) beginner and seasoned syrup processors were trained in value added methods of syrup processing and marketing.
This Project was displayed at the 1890 Presidents Council Meeting in 2001. “Reviving the Syrup Industry” has reached nation wide audience’s evident by numerous request for design and blueprints of the PMS pan design and the design for the “Mill on Wheels”. Similar projects are currently underway in at least three other States, Kentucky, North Carolina and Arkansas. This Sustainable Agriculture project was highlighted in the SARE “COMMON GROUND” Professional Development Projects in Progress List and was highlighted as one of twelve (12) projects in the United States in SARE’s Annual Report in preceding years. The “Mill on Wheels” was used to train producers & professionals on the operation of the “Patton’s Modified Stubbs Pan” in Bowling Green Kentucky at the National Sweet Sorghum Producer’s & Processors National Conference in 2001. Alcorn Cooperative Extension Program Agricultural Agents presented information on the project to this NSSPPA Conference in 1999. The “Mill on Wheels” processing demonstration was presented to the National Association of County Agents Annual Convention and to the SARE Southern meeting of Professional Development Program Committee Members. A summary of the project was presented as Power Point at the National Small Farms Conference in fall of 2002. This training project presented demonstrations at numerous other events like; Mississippi State Fair, Piney Woods Heritage Festival, ‘Dillo Dash, Alcorn Cooperative Extension Program Field Days, Tunica High School and etc.
Articles and interviews concerning the project have appeared in the “Farm Bureau Country” July 2003, Tunica Chamber Times-September 2001, “Successful Farming”-Best alternative Ag ideas in the US-March 2000, “New Albany Chronicle”-Molasses sweetens the take- June/2002, “The Daily Leader”-Syrup Making -December 1999, “The Bolivar Commercial”-Making Molasses-November 1998.
Publications include; “Patton’s Modified Stubbs Pan on a metal furnace, trailer mounted, construction information”, “ ‘Reviving the syrup industry in Mississippi’ program and SARE project training in sustainable systems approach to production, harvesting, processing and marketing value-added syrup crops in Mississippi and surrounding States”, “Floating Bed Construction, Cost and Operation”, “Processing Syrup on the Patton’s Modified Stubbs Pan (PMSP), “Sweet Sorghum Harvest”, “Reviving the Syrup Industry in Mississippi”, Mississippi Syrup Producers and Processors Directory”.
One of the easiest ways to make syrup crops more sustainable without forcing a higher yield or harming the environment is to obtain a higher price for the product through value-adding. Since 1999 syrup prices in these states have increased from $8.00 per gallon to $34.00 – $52.00 per gallon in attractive plastic quart & pint jugs. Participants marketed $118,951.00 during marketing demonstrations at these value added prices. Thus, training in value adding and improved quality has quadrupled the price of syrup. Two hundred thirty seven-(237) small farmers participated in improved cultural practices-(soil sampling, fertility, weed control, winter cover crops, mechanical harvest, improved varieties, etc.) demonstrations plots for syrup crops. Four hundred ninety eight-(498) beginner and seasoned syrup makers were trained during workshops and special events. Attitudes toward sustainable production practices has improved and some 55 growers order improved syrup varieties each year. And attractive plastic jugs are the dominant type of syrup container on the market. Many seasoned and beginning syrup producers/processors from Mississippi and six other states have e-mailed or called for information about sustainable practices promoted by the project. Many of these inquires have asked for; new processing equipment design, styles of pan, mills for sale, mobile “Mill on Wheels” design, furnace design, pan design, collaboration on similar proposals, vendor addresses for thermometers, pans, containers, enzymes, and seed varieties. Most Processors, as a result of this project, are now producing more syrup because of the higher market price and better quality syrup because they are cleaning the juice better, using a thermometer for regulating cooking, and cooling syrup immediately after processing. These are just a few of the sustainable practices that have been adopted and the revived interest in syrup making is event by the phone calls/e-mails almost daily from in-State and out-of –State.
I suggest that Producers and Processors continue to pay close attention to the latest sugarcane and sweet sorghum varieties release by the USDA Sugar Crops Research Station before it closed in the early 1980’s. Several of the older varieties make acceptable syrup but the current recommended varieties show improvement in yield and syrup quality. However, I believe that the greatest benefits of using the recommended varieties are standardizing the way juice is handled, standardizing the cooking methods and accomplishing a standard syrup quality! Varieties of known origin react the same during juice handling and processing from year to year, from farm to farm and under most production variability.
Producers and processors are producing an acceptable quality of syrup, but in order for the syrup industry to become fully sustainable, they must price syrup at a profit! This project has proven to participating producers that consumers will pay well for good quality syrup in attractive containers. All producers and processors in Southern States must stabilize syrup prices at a profitable level so that sustainability will have a predominating effect over the entire region!
Current syrup producers and processors must bind themselves together as a formal organization and/or collect around an educational program to mount an effort to get younger producers and processors involved in this alternative enterprise! The indigenous knowledge of the current ‘aged’ syrup producers and processors must soon be passed to another generation. It is more of an ‘art’ than a science, and art travels farther by personal contact! This project has done well in this effort and the effort must continue!
Areas Needing Additional Study:
There are several areas that were noted during this project that need further research, demonstration and training on new results!
For example; an affordable mechanical leaf stripper is very near development by the producers that participate in this project in Arkansas. The hand harvest cost is a hurdle that trips most producers!
Mechanical harvesters adapted/converted for sweet sorghum and sugarcane for syrup are not adequate and/nor affordable. This project has exposed the fact that a combination of three or four harvesters exist that have been adapted to sweet sorghum and sugarcane harvest. “But” not one of these harvesters has efficiency in all of the components that make up the harvester( cutting stalk, stripping leaves, topping cane, elevating cut cane, dropping cut cane on wagon, tie cane in bundles, side delivery of cane from harvester, etc. It is relatively easy to see efficient components of each harvester that needs to be assembled all in one harvester. Mechanical repair, adaptation and construction to assemble components of this new harvester would be costly in the prototype but very inexpensive for syrup producers to repeat since the details would already be worked out! Once demonstrated, producers could make these adaptations in farm shops!
And juice settling needs a lot of attention to greatly improve the quality of syrup. And Observations made during this project offers simple solutions to reduced settling time, increased settling efficiency, and reduction in risk of juice spoilage.
Additional training is needed in syrup production and processing throughout the Southern Region. Syrup producers and processors are small farmers. Small farmers do not travel many miles for educational programs. Therefore, even though this project traveled to some twenty events each year, there is still numerous producers, processors, and professionals that did not receive training. “Mill on Wheels” equipment and training to “Revive the Syrup Industry” is needed to continue in Mississippi and duplicated in all of the Southern States and other states that have syrup crops grown!