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Bob Schlosser uses a flat-edged scoop to check the sheeting of syrup. If it’s thin and drips off, it’s not ready. When it comes off in more of a sheet, he knows it’s done. Today, many producers use hydrometers and refractometers for more accurate readings.
Photos courtesy of Sandiwood Farm.

A 35-acre old-growth sugar bush in Wolcott, Vermont, provides the sap for Sandiwood Farm’s maple syrup. The forest has been tapped since the 1850s. Today, sugaring is just one part of the farm’s diverse agricultural ventures.

“It was part of our dream to be able to make a living year-round agriculturally from various practices from our land, and this fit perfectly,” Bob Schlosser said of the sugar bush.

Bob and his wife, Sara, purchased the land about 25 years ago and started their farming endeavor. From the beginning, the Schlossers knew sugaring would be a part of the farm operation, and they eagerly anticipated their first sugaring season. When they purchased the land, it included all the sugaring equipment they needed to get started.

However, Sara said, “I didn’t realize how old our equipment was until I saw some of what we were using in a museum.”

The sugar bush, which has a 3,000-tap potential, had 2,500 taps in 1850. Sap was collected from buckets and hauled to the sugarhouse by oxen. Eventually, horses replaced the oxen, but the buckets and old taps remained. With 1,200 taps dripping sap into buckets, the couple began their sugaring enterprise the old-fashioned way in 1990.

“We are at a particular altitude and climate with a lot of wind. The boiling temperatures vary depending on the barometric pressure, which we track during sugaring time,” Bob said. “Like fine cheese and wine, you just can’t get another maple syrup like we boil in our sugarhouse in early spring.”

Today’s operation
Kyle Schlosser, left, and a friend check sap in a bucket at Sandiwood Farm in Wolcott, Vermont. Photos courtesy of Sandiwood Farm.

Not much has changed since then. Buckets still hang from some of the trees in the Sandiwood Farm sugar bush. Even though the horses and oxen are long gone, 50 taps were on the bucket system last season, with another 300 taps on gravity lines. With the sugarhouse’s location at the top of the sugar bush, they only have a small portion of the trees on a main line directly to the primary holding tank there. For the majority of the taps, they’ve plumbed lines to collection tanks located throughout the woods. A bulldozer with a trailer and gathering tank is used to gather sap from the collection tanks and transport it to the sugarhouse.

The Schlossers aren’t looking to make more syrup; they’re downsizing the sugaring operation. For the 2014 season, they had the smallest number of taps in the farm’s history. Several years ago, they sold their 5-by-16-foot evaporating pan, opting instead for a 2.5-by-8-foot model with a preheater hood.

“This takes a lot longer to boil a gallon of syrup, but we don’t want to tap at least 1,000 trees anymore to be able to run the larger evaporator,” Bob explained.

The couple has decided to scale back maple syrup production for a variety of reasons. They believe in keeping the operation simple, using wood-fired boilers, boiling in very small batches, and not using reverse osmosis or vacuum tubing. They said the old-fashioned techniques help give the syrup its “unique and special” flavor, one that just isn’t the same when modern equipment is used.

Bob noted that they still burned 4 or 5 cords of wood, almost a cord per boil. “The wood is cut throughout the year from downed trees in the sugar bush. We want to enjoy sugaring and have fun with sugaring and not have to cut 10 cords of wood.”

They’d also have to make some investments in the sugarhouse and equipment in order to continue to operate on a larger scale, and that isn’t something they want to do. With their many other on-farm enterprises, “[sugaring] runs into greenhouse and planting time, so it starts to get hectic come April,” Bob said. “We want and choose to be small maple producers. It is truly a labor of love, and a quality-of-life job, not a job to count your hours and wages.”

New solutions

While they have downsized their maple sugaring operation, other farm enterprises have grown. With a full push for agritourism events hosted at the farm, sugaring will continue, but it will have to evolve with the farm’s needs. Bob has worked to make the sugaring operation a one-man enterprise, if necessary, so that it can continue even if only one person can be freed from other farm chores.

“We enjoy making maple syrup,” Sara said. “We put good energy and work into all that goes into the sugaring process.”

The farm’s maple syrup will continue to play a role in the on-farm dinners and events catered by the couple’s daughter, Sandi Schlosser. Sandi runs her Vermont Harvest Catering enterprise from a certified on-farm kitchen. The farm is known for its gourmet fare, made with farm-grown produce and meats, as well as products from other local producers. Dinners at the farm are regular events, and the farm is also available to rent as a venue for special occasions, such as weddings.

“Sandi always uses our maple syrup in many of her dishes, especially dressings, glazes and desserts,” Sara said. “We put out our syrup as a sweetener for beverages at our Farm-to-Fork Dinners.”

Loyal customers order their syrup season after season, and continuing those relationships is important. The farm’s maple syrup will still be sold at the local farmers market, where son Kyle also offers maple lemonade. Through the years, farm market customers have kept the maple syrup sales flowing, with a mail-order component also emerging. Maple syrup income is “sporadic,” Sara noted. Filling mail orders, which encourage people to stock up and fill the box since it costs the same to ship no matter how many bottles are inside, is a good way to minimize the labor and maximize the impact of syrup sales.

From tree to market

The old sugar bush isn’t finished being tapped, even if the Schlossers are decreasing their syrup-making enterprise. They plan to tap 500 trees in the next season or two and are looking into options to sell the sap. They haven’t ruled out trading sap for syrup if the market demand outpaces their production. Finding the right person to invest in upgrading the tubing and pumps and running lines to the road, where sap could be collected easily, in exchange for the use of the sap, is another option.

Selective thinning of the canopy, as well as cutting of trees, has allowed the maple trees in the old-growth forest to thrive. Ice, hail and windstorms are probably the biggest threat to the trees. Borers are the most prominent pests. Without the use of vacuum tubing, they’re dependent on the perfect weather for the sap to run.

“It’s farming, and it’s always a gamble,” Bob said.

The Schlossers are invested in finding innovative solutions to ensure that the farm’s old-growth forest continues to be tapped. The potential to increase taps back to the levels found in the 1800s remains.

“Our sugar bush has been sugared since the mid-1800s,” Sara said. “We have a huge potential. We’re still exploring creative options.”

Cover Photo: The majority of the taps at Sandiwood Farm are on tubing, but they still keep about 50 taps on buckets. Photos courtesy of Sandiwood Farm.

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One thing is certain in animal agriculture. There is manure, and it happens year-round. But handling that manure changes with the seasons. The weather has major impacts on manure application strategies, and winter manure handling brings additional considerations. Snow cover, winter precipitation, frozen ground, and winter melts all complicate the management of manure.

Climate change predictions indicate that wetter winters, more extreme storm events and weather variability will create increasingly challenging conditions for farmers needing to apply manure outside of the growing season. Manure management in the Northeast is only going to get trickier.

Peter Wright, formerly of New York State National Resources Conservation Services, addressed some of these concerns at the recent Dairy Environmental Systems and Climate Adaptation Conference, held at Cornell University. The impacts of climate change, Wright said, will be accompanied by increased environmental regulations, including water quality management. Decreasing the carbon footprint of agriculture will become a main focus, and mitigating greenhouse gas emissions and eliminating runoff concerns will play a major role in farm manure management decisions. With all of these pressures, managing manure with as little detrimental impact as possible will require changes in handling.

Issues

Manure is a nutrient-laden, all-natural fertilizer, and its use in crop production is an important part of the equation on most farms. Whether deposited by rotationally grazed livestock, spread in its solid form, stored and applied in its liquid form, composted, separated or anaerobically digested, manure in all of its forms needs to be handled appropriately.

Proper manure management will help to reduce runoff from fields, as well as to reduce odors and greenhouse gas emissions. Nitrogen and phosphorus, both present in manure and both of which contribute to eutrophication of waterways, can run off of fields,. In addition, volatilization of nitrogen left on the surface of the soil causes the release of nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas.

“It is critical for farm managers to understand that while we may not notice a loss of a pound or so of phosphorus per acre, if there are enough farm acres in a watershed, this is enough phosphorus to potentially have significant impact on water quality,” Karl Czymmek, Senior Extension Associate, Prodairy Field Crops and Nutrient Management, Cornell University, said. “It is also critical to understand that phosphorus losses happen with or without manure application: fields that are fertilized and have runoff or soil erosion are contributors too.”

While manure isn’t the only contributing factor to runoff, proper manure application, year-round, is warranted. Managing manure through daily spreading, which is less and less common as farm size grows, eliminates the need for manure storage, but applying manure under adverse conditions is not an acceptable practice. If precipitation is predicted in the next 24-48 hours, soil is saturated, snowmelt is predicted, snow coverage exists, or when the ground is frozen, spreading manure isn’t a good practice.

Photo courtesy audaxl/istock

Spreading manure in the summer, when the crops can actively utilize the manure nutrients, will become one standard method of reducing winter manure application concerns. Increasingly warmer summers will be conducive to double cropping, Wright said. Because less than optimal weather conditions for applying manure in the colder months are expected to increase, increasing manure storage volumes, separating out manure solids and covering liquid manure storage need to become standard practices, Wright said.

There are other risk factors which that intensify the negative impacts of winter manure spreading. Sloped land, proximity of surface water, tile drainage systems, inlets and ditches, liquid manure and lack of crop residue or cover all negatively impact manure application. The method of manure application also has a substantial impact.

Applying manure

While more farms store their manure in some form prior to its field application, situations still arise when the manure storage is full, and the manure needs to be applied to the crop outside of ideal conditions. Although solid-liquid manure separation and coverage of liquid manure storage will help to increase storage capacity, in general liquid manure is more likely to run off when spread on fields than is manure in its solid form. No matter the form, some states ban spreading during certain months, while others have restrictions limiting the conditions under which application can occur.

“Manure spreading in Vermont is banned from December 15th through April 1st,” Scott Magnan, a custom applicator in St. Albans, said. “Adequate storage through those months is needed. The farms in the area have made huge improvements to structures and in management practices to control runoff. If broadcast spreading is needed late in the year we try to apply to low runoff areas away from stream and waterways.”

Contact with the soil is important in preventing runoff from occurring. During spreading of manure, the time period during which the manure can dry is critical. Liquid manure is more likely to runoff after surface application, no matter the weather conditions.

“The main concern is that manure runs off of the soil when rain or snow comes. A period of time when manure is in contact with the soil, crop residue, or cover crops, without precipitation, reduce s the chances of runoff losses,” Bill Verbeten, of Empire Ag Imagery LLC, and formerly of Cornell Cooperative Extension, said. “Partially or fully incorporating the manure into the soil,” and doing so when weather conditions are optimal, are best practices for manure handling.

In the winter, getting manure into contact with the soil is complicated by the freeze/thaw cycle, and by snow coverage. Spreading on snow should be avoided, and rain and melting conditions lead to runoff concerns. Because new snow coverage can obscure where manure was recently spread, marking the end-point when spreading frequently can decrease overlap.

“In the past we have spread on snow covered ground, but as environmental regulations become stricter, this practice is avoided. We have been able to inject manure into one to three inches of frost with our current injector,” Magnan said. “If the frost becomes much deeper, we can no longer pull through. We have also had issues with frost when the top starts to melt and the tractor spins out on the slick surface.”

Injecting or incorporating manure into soils with this critical one to three inches of frost is one of the best tools for winter manure application. Spreading, too, works well during this occurrence, if it is done where significant crop residues exists, and if local laws allow. Some residues, such as hay, offer more protection from runoff than others, and heavier residue is preferred.

“It’s a wonderful way to apply manure,” Wright said of frost injection. “But it may not be a way you can count on,” moving into the future, as changing weather patterns may create less of an opportunity for the proper conditions to occur.

Proper conditions for frost injection develop rapidly. Above freezing daytime temperatures, plus bare soil and night temperatures which that fall below freezing combine to create the frost layer. This frost layer can support heavy equipment without compaction.

Magnan is purchasing a new injector this fall, which utilizes uses disks instead of points. This “cuts and rolls” instead of “pulling and ripping” through the frost layers, and the machine is designed specifically for these harsh conditions.

Equipment and storage preparation

“Equipment preparation is important, and all tanks and pumps should be drained at night. Plug in the block heaters on the tractors at night. A few minutes spent at shutdown can save you hours the next day,” Magnan said. “Accurate spreader calibration means less chance of runoff from over-application. GPS equipment helps in accuracy, and flow meters and valves on tanks allow rates to be set.”

Wright advised that farmers plan on separating manure solids out, capturing value for use in bedding. This also decreases manure hauling costs “because you’re not hauling all that liquid.”

Storage for liquid manure should be covered, eliminating rainfall and capturing greenhouse gases. Without covers, and without designing storage to account for the increased winter rainfalls predicted for the Northeast region, manure storage facilities will be inadequate. With winter field conditions for manure application also increasingly limiting application windows, combined with increased environmental regulations, farmers will be facing a crisis if manure storage capacity isn’t adequate. Filled storage leads to application at “inopportune times,” Wright said.

Photo courtesy holdeneye/istock

Management of tile drainage systems is another area which that Wright recommends improving. Blocking drainage after harvest, to allow the soil to absorb nutrients, and the use of bioreactors, joined to every tile line, are needed improvements to nutrient handling. Both phosphorous and nitrogen discharges from tile drainage will increase with warming trends, Wright said.

“Tile can improve drainage, but it’s impact on manure runoff can be quite variable,” Verbeten said. Increased

Tile drainage areas are already known to be hydrologically active areas of concern. Applying manure to fields where tiles are flowing from field drainage is risky as runoff issues are highly likely to occur.

If winter weather conditions are not optimal for manure application, yet storage is inadequate, reducing the manure application rate, applying manure to fields with the least chance for runoff issues, and applying smaller amounts of manure more frequently, rather than a large amount at once, are some recommendations to decrease negative impacts.

“Manure management is among the top priorities for farms that are positioning themselves for the future. This will mean having manure systems that can function in a range of expected weather conditions and enough manure storage capacity to avoid applications in poor conditions such as when the soil is frozen solid or when significant rainfall or snow melt is expected,” Czymmek said. “Anything we can do to keep soil, residual nutrients and manure on the land will help us to maintain productivity of farm fields and will limit offsite degradation where the extra fertility can create problems.”

Cover Photo Courtesy Scott Magnan

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On the surface, it would be safe to say that 2015 has been a good year. Technically though, the year, according to the sugar making industry, ended in June 2015. According to the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service, it’s Northeastern Regional Field Office reported that the region’s maple syrup production (Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Pennsylvania, and Vermont) rose 7 percent from 2014’s from 2.78 million gallons to 2.96 million gallons. The state of Vermont remained supreme, producing more than 1.39 million gallons, which represents nearly 41 percent of the nation’s maple syrup.

Plus, signs are pointing toward more upward projection. The USDA reported that the 3.4 million gallons collected this year was more than three times the corn syrup in 1995.

“Looking at the bigger scope, the last 20 years in maple have been a boom,” said Gary Bilek, president of the Pennsylvania Maple Association. “We have seen new technology coming out (tubing, vacuum pumps, etc). We are going through what many in the farming community went through in the ’50s, where there was money put into research and productivity was increased on the farm, thus crops were more profitable. We’re finally seeing this in the maple industry. Our sales and the market as a whole have been good.”

Bilek’s state as well as the rest of the Northeastern region have been busy. Taps in the Northeastern United States totaled 10.23 million, up 4 percent from last year, and accounted for 86 percent of the nation’s maple taps.

The USDA stated that the syrup yield per tree tap averaged 0.287 gallon in 2015, up 2 percent from 0.281 gallon in 2014. The highest yield was 0.31 gallon per tree tap in Vermont, followed by Maine with a yield of 0.3 gallon. The New England states, including New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Connecticut, have an average yield of 0.3 gallon per tap in 2015.

Total U.S. Production: 3,414,000 Gallons

Source: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Northeastern Regional Field Office
More maple, more demand

Bruce Bascom, principal owner of Bascom Maple Farms in New Hampshire, is also optimistic about the future. While at the North American Maple Syrup Council and International Maple Syrup Institute (NAMSC/IMSI) Annual Meeting last October, Bascom said the processing companies he spoke with are experiencing a sales pop as demand for the maple is up.

“At the moment, the market is expanding in the U.S… a little faster than production is expanding,” he said. “In the last couple of years, the reverse was true. For example, three years ago, prices were higher and there was more syrup being added each year with new trees and new technology.”

Bascom explained that since maple syrup sales are on the rise, the market demand for it could double in North America along with production in a relatively short time frame (10-15 years). “That has not always been the case,” he said.

The Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers, a private organization that regulates the price, production and marketing of maple syrup, shares Bascom’s assessment. The group reported overall consumption of 7 percent at 10 million pounds per year. Canada is the largest producer of maple syrup, with the United States serving as the federation’s largest export market.

Several factors come into play when accessing the increasing demand, noted Jacques Letourneau, chief executive officer of the Canadian-based Island Pond Maple Factory, a buyer of U.S. maple syrup, noted.

“The U.S. economy is getting better, more people have money to purchase these items and it’s been positive for our business,” he said. Island Pond Maple Factory had been looking into purchasing more U.S. syrup in the coming years. In July 2014, Quebec’s Bernard and Sons purchased more than 22,000 gallons of U.S. syrup from Vermont, New York, Pennsylvania and parts of the Midwest, and has a presence in the Northeast.

Letourneau forecasted that he doesn’t see the growth of demand dying down anytime soon. As for the supply, he said that it’s a bright side for the United States. Especially when the price is regulated by the world’s largest producing entity, Quebec.

“It’s a nice thing to have when 80 percent of the world’s production comes from a province where the market sets the price before the first pound; there’s money to be made no matter what,” Letourneau said about the U.S./Canadian dynamic. “It’s all the motivation for supply plus there’s a world population that wants it. It’s like riding a wave. Everything is in place for growth. That is the climate we’re seeing.”

The nutritional movement

Arguably, the increased global demand for maple could have been sparked by the efforts to promote the awareness of healthy eating and living, or as Bilek phrased it, “the nutritional movement.”

“The nutritional movement is not going to go away. People are more aware of health concerns, wanting to live longer and the cost of medicine now,” he said. “It is not unreasonable to say that I might live to be 90 or older. That wasn’t true in the past. Natural vs. processed sugar… that’s as far as you got to go to explain it. But you have to educate people about that. That’s our job. And it’s a big job.”

For more than five decades, Rob Lamothe, of Lamothe’s Sugar House in Burlington, Connecticut, has been perfecting the art of the maple syrup sell. Along with his wife Jean, Lamothe usually spends a typical Sunday morning after church preparing their farm market booth with maple items that include syrup jugs and maple lollipops for the kids.

“You touch a lot of people at farm markets,” he said of the experience that nets several hundred dollars in added revenue in the span of three hours. “You take your products to the consumer and you can talk to them directly. Marketing is a big deal. If I can get the kids to come over for the lollipops, I got the parents.”

Part of that marketing is getting the word out on maple syrup’s nutritional value. In 2012, the IMSI published a comprehensive journal titled, “The nutrition and health benefits of pure maple syrup,” promoting the natural sweetener (http://www.internationalmaplesyrupinstitute.com/uploads/7/0/9/2/7092109/__nutrition_and_health_benefits_of_pure_maple_syrup.pdf). The 200-plus-page document explains maple syrup’s health value by showcasing subject-related white papers as well as fact sheets and resource information.

Sugarmakers agree that the much-need marketing efforts of the Federation, IMSI, North American Maple Syrup Council, and other state and regional associations are paying off.

“The growth nationwide of maple is due to the movement of buying organic and locally,” Bascom said. “Maple is a real food and a non-artificial product, and it’s on the upward swing.”

It’s a big world out there

Most sugarmakers and buyers agree that despite the steady growth of the industry there’s still room for improvement. Considering that the average American consumes a little more than two ounces of maple syrup per year, more consumer exploration is needed.

“The industry is still pretty small and doesn’t have the scale of other ag markets,” Winton Pitcoff, coordinator of the Massachusetts Maple Producers Association, said. “Social media makes it easier to the get the word out and it involves less expense. There are a lot of untapped markets that are outside the borders of maple production.”

Just as important as a strong consumer base, Lamothe said, is a strong core of maple producers. Lamothe noted that the veteran sugarmakers and buyers are well positioned – via experience – to take on the ever-increasing demand.

“With the global market expanding, we can put in as many taps as we want and it won’t satisfy the market, but I still think the market is good and solid,” he said. “The individuals who make maple syrup are salt of the earth folk; they put 30-40 years into this, they’re good people.”C

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Whether on a livestock operation where it is important to keep critters in or on a vegetable farm where it is important to keep critters out, fencing is an unavoidable task.

Building and repairing a fence is one of those jobs that are as much a part of rural life as riding a tractor. Whether on a livestock operation where it is important to keep critters in or on a vegetable farm where it is important to keep critters out, fencing is an unavoidable task.

Anyone who has done fence work knows how exhausting it can be to drive nails or staples into an endless row of fence posts.

Andy and Sam Gardner know about fencing. At their Gardner Brothers Land, LLC, they feed out replacement heifers for dairy producers in the Northeast and along the mountains into Virginia. At any given time they may have as many as 600 to 1,000 head of curious heifers on the farm. They feed out the heifers, returning them to their home dairy when they are about to freshen.

In-between times, they do custom fencing for farms, businesses or government agencies.

The Gardner brothers are sold on the STOCKade ST400i staple gun. Although sold under the STOCKade name, it is made by a subsidiary of Illinois Tool Works. The 400i is the fuel cell version of the ST400, a pneumatic stapler that has been on the market for several years.

“With the 400i and the STOCKade insulators, we were able to install a line of fence with 500 insulators in less time with less fatigue on our guys and on us,” said Sam. Though they are still tweaking their routine to get the most efficient way to move between posts and install insulators, he said he is sold on the gun.

The stapler was developed for use at the sheep stations in Australia and New Zealand. The manufacturer since has begun marketing it elsewhere in the world. As part of their beta testing, several users in the United States were given units to try under local conditions.

“We don’t own one yet,” Andy said. “But we’re happy to have our hands on this loaner.”

Rick Jackmas, president of McArthur Lumber and Post, McArthur, Ohio, also recommends the ST400i stapler for fast, easy fence work. The unit shoots a 1.5- to 2-inch staple. “It will work with any type of wire that you would use that size staple with,” he said. “It will go in any rural fencing with any wood over 1.5 inches thick.”

Since most fencing jobs in this part of the world work with 1.75-inch staples, the unit fits right in with most users’ sweet spots. The unit is a top-loader for simple access.

“The 400i sets two, 2-inch staples every second. They are fully embedded in the wood with twice the pullout power of other staplers,” Jackmas said. “In fact, the staples are almost impossible to pull out.”

His business, McArthur, both sells the 400i and uses it for work for the states of Ohio and West Virginia and even for Victoria’s Secret.

“It takes 54 seconds to move between posts, putting four insulators per post,” Andy added.

He timed his efficiency on a run of 50 posts. “It took us just under a minute to install each post,” he said. There are two staples per insulator.

“I think it is very important to use the insulator that goes with the gun attachment,” Andy said. He noted that early vendor literature did not make it clear to use the insulator for high tensile applications.

“We are extremely satisfied with the product and will continue to use it in our applications/business, but I want the rest of the professionals out there like me to fully grasp what is being sold,” he said. “The prices are competitive so that’s not an issue.”

The crew working for Gardner Brothers Land is a professional bunch. “We hire good guys and pay them well,” Andy said. They also provide the crew with the best of equipment.

“We know we are spending good money on more efficient equipment,” Andy said. “But in the end we find we are saving money.”

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Early in the year, economists predicted that milk prices would raise nearly $2.00 per cwt during the year, but oversupply increased production and “baggage” from the previous two years tempered excitement over increased prices. Halfway into 2017, the outlook remains the same.

Guarded optimism was the common theme among industry experts regarding 2017 milk prices. Early in the year, economists predicted that milk prices would rise nearly $2.00 per cwt during the year, but oversupply increased production and “baggage” from the previous two years tempered excitement over increased prices.

Halfway into 2017, the outlook remains the same.

Read more: The State of Milk Prices in 2017

“Prices have by and large done what was expected with Class III pricing hitting $17,” said Andrew Novakovic , Ph.D. and the E.V. Baker Professor of Agricultural Economics at Cornell University.

While prices have risen in some cases, the increase has not been as much as the anticipated $2.00.

“We’ve seen an increase of $1.82 over this time last year,” said Catherine deRonde, an economist at Agri-Mark. “We’re expecting to see the price up to the $18 range by September.”

Even though that’s slightly less than the expected, Novakovic said it’s far better than no increase at all. deRonde adds that strong demand — specifically for high fat products — is keeping prices up further out into the future.

The oversupply of milk — particularly in the northeast — is putting downward pressure on prices, deRonde said. The abundant supply may have a new outlet with the reported sale of the vacant Theo Muller plant in Batavia, New York.

On June 9, 2017, The Batavian reported that HP Hood will like buy the 363,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art milk processing facility that has been vacant since December 2015.

“That would be a positive sign for dairy farms in New York and help move more raw milk off the market,” said Steve Ammerman, the public affairs manager at the New York Farm.

International markets continue to impact prices. “We have exposed ourselves to more and more international trade and that drives pricing,” Novakovic said. “Our price domestically increase (or decrease) with prices in world markets.”

Big questions remain about export markets which have a profound influence on milk prices and the current issue with ultra-filtered milk going into Canada is a prime example.

“As that market was closed off to New York dairy producers because of the change in Canadian pricing policy for the product, it put more milk on the market and is costing processors tens of millions of dollars,” Ammerman said.

With President Trump looking to renegotiate NAFTA, there are pros and cons to consider.

“There are potential opportunities, especially with Canada, but we must be careful not to upset markets that already exist,” Ammerman said.  “Mexico is the number one importer of our dairy products, and a more restrictive trade policy with them could mean more difficult times for our farmers. Trade really is key to boosting milk prices.”

No one has a crystal ball that can accurately predict what will transpire in the remaining half-year and into 2018. Hopefully, the higher milk prices in 2017 can help farmers stabilize and dig out of debt from challenges compounded in the past two years

“At this point, we’re predicting 2018 will look much the same as 2017,” deRonde said. “Hopefully demand and export will continue to support the movement of milk.”

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A selective treatment affects individual stems and a broadcast treatment affects all stems in an area. If an interfering species is mixed with a high percentage of the desired species, a selective treatment may be used to reduce injury to the desired species.

Editor’s Note: This is the final part of a two-part series on integrated vegetation management. This month’s column will cover the topic of the treatment attribute of broadcast manual and broadcast chemical mode. Check with your state’s cooperative extension or regulatory agency about legal herbicide use. 

Mode is selected depending on the desired specificity of the treatment to individual or groups of stems. A selective treatment affects individual stems and a broadcast treatment affects all stems in an area. If an interfering species is mixed with a high percentage of a desired species, a selective treatment may be used to reduce injury to the desired species. Selectivity is possible through physically isolating one stem from others, by using a treatment that only affects a certain species or by applying a treatment at a time of year when desirable species are not susceptible. If the interfering species predominates, or financial or logistical constraints preclude a selective treatment, then a broadcast treatment would be applied.

Read more: Controlling Undesirable Woody Plants: Part 1

The abundance of undesired stems is a good place to start when considering whether to use a selective or broadcast mode. The principle to consider is the fixed cost to visit each stem in a selective treatment. If there are too many stems per acre, that means (1) the cost per acre will become prohibitive and (2) because there are a fixed number of stems per acre the interfering stems have likely displaced the desirable stems. Therefore, a broadcast treatment would have limited relative collateral damage. Although not widely studied, the threshold between selective and broadcast is about 400 stems per acre. Each owner’s situation is a different, so this threshold should only be used as a guide.

Broadcast manual
  • In woodland settings, there are a few options for broadcast manual treatments. These include rotary brush heads on small tracked machines and management intensive grazing.
  • Small tracked machines (e.g., Fecon, Timber Ax) can maneuver in many wooded settings and clear vegetation in the lower strata. Depending on the operator, these machines have the potential to selectively avoid desired stems. As with selective manual, this treatment may stimulate root and stump sprouting.
  • Management intensive grazing is a grazing strategy often used in silvopasture systems. It requires a high level of grazier awareness and understanding. Management intensive grazing might be preceded by a rotary mower as described already.
Broadcast chemical
  • Broadcast chemical treatments are only used when interfering stems fully and almost exclusively dominate the site, and the foliage is at a height where it is accessible to spray equipment.
  • Because broadcast chemical treatments open the entire understory, care must be taken to monitor the species that reoccupy the site to assure other interfering species don’t assume dominance.
  • A few isolated desired species can often be protected by clipping them at ground level just before spraying. The lack of foliage protects the clipped stems and most will resprout.
  • Broadcast chemical treatments are essentially foliar treatments, but done with equipment that sprays broad areas rather than selective targets. In some situations, this treatment is the most efficient and provides the best control of interfering species. Both backpack and tractor/skidder mounted sprayers are available.

ForestConnect is a joint research and extension program funded by the Cornell University Agricultural Experiment Station (Hatch funds) and Cornell Cooperative Extension (Smith Lever funds) received by Cornell University College of Agriculture and Life Science from the National Institutes for Food and Agriculture (NIFA) U.S. Department of Agriculture. Additional educational resources are available.

Photo: Lerrok /istock

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Goodrich’s Maple Farm has records going back to 1793. According to their website, the Goodrich and Abbott families of East Cabot settled the valley in the early 1830’s and are located in the community along the headwaters of the Winooski River in Vermont.

FARMING:
Goodrich’s Maple Farm has been family owned since 1840. How has the industry changed since then?

Goodrich:
We now have family records going back to 1793. The industry has changed immensely since then and especially in the last 15 years. Over the past 15 years, we have seen many changes in technology. Some sugarmakers are working with high concentrate of 35%, we have seen the introduction of 3/16″ tubing, which is showing phenomenal results in sap production and better vacuum pumps and systems are increasing yields.

FARMING:
Many people haven’t tried pure Vermont maple syrup. How would you explain the taste to them?

Goodrich:
The taste of syrup is a blend of divine flavor and scrumptious sweetness with a unique aroma.

FARMING:
How has the implementation of the new grading system help the industry?

Goodrich:
The new grading system is easier to use, based on light transmittency. It allows us to sell the darker maple syrup again in retail containers, which is so wonderful for baking and flavoring. The new descriptions translate into other languages around the world in a way that enhance sales. 

FARMING:
What are you doing to market your product primarily in the Northeast for worldwide consumption? With the quality difference between different kinds of maple syrup, how does Goodrich’s continue the quality control?

Goodrich:
Maple sap is gaining popularity as a drink with wonderful health benefits.  We shipped 4000 gallons of frozen concentrate to a company based out of England for that purpose just last week.  As more and more people learn about the health benefits of maple, they are using it more in their daily diets. We have high standards for quality and cleanliness, and we also do direct overseeing of all aspects of the operation ensure quality control.

FARMING:
Technology and materials for making maple syrup are ever changing. In what ways has the company introduced new technology? Do you see it changing in the future?

Goodrich:
We use all the latest technological improvements and devices.  We design sugaring equipment and are always looking for better ways to produce a quality product and making it a more efficient process. 

Five Questions is a FarmingMagazine.com monthly series that discusses industry-related topics with the people who influence the industry.

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When making maple syrup, measuring its density is necessary for safety and regulatory matters. Reliable sugar bush performance and maple production can be easily accomplished with a hydrometer or a refractometer.

Difference between hydrometers and refractometers

Understanding how a hydrometer and refractometer measure differently is critical when determining the right tool for each circumstance. “They’re measuring the concentration of sugar, but they’re doing it in two different ways,” Kathryn Hopkins, Extension professor at the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, said. “The hydrometer [measures] the percent of sugar in a sugar solution. Refractometers [measure] the change in the angle and speed of light as it passes through the sugar solution.”

Targeting the right threshold

Marked with two red lines on the stem, and assuming a hydrometer is calibrated correctly, Hopkins explained that as long the measurements are taken at the right temperatures, the red marks will give an accurate density reading.

However, Hopkins explained that if you were to measure, for example, at 180 degrees Fahrenheit, or another temperature reading, you would have to do a little math to figure out the actual density. “You can’t just read right off the hydrometer stem, unless you’re right at 211 or 60 degrees Fahrenheit,” she said.

Hopkins explained that for maple producers to maximize their “hot test,” an evaporator that can be set to 7.1 degrees above the day’s boiling point of water will help them achieve a minimum of 66 degrees Brix. Although the generally accepted temperature of boiling water is 212 degrees Fahrenheit, it does often vary depending on the atmospheric pressure. It’s important to determine the baseline of the water’s boiling point, and add the 7.1 additional degrees to turn sap into maple syrup that has a minimum of 66 degrees Brix every time maple syrup is processed.

Refractometers measure the change in the angle and speed of light as it passes through the sugar solution.

Understanding a refractometer

Refractometers work differently; based on those considerations, producers can use them for similar and different sugar bush needs. “In a refractometer, it’s a prism in there. It refracts the light based on the concentration of solids inside the liquid and bends the light differently as more solids are in the liquid,” Jim Finley Ibberson, professor of Forest Resource Management Director Center for Private Forests at Penn State Pennsylvania Extension Forester, said. “So a refractometer for sap might be calibrated from 0 to 6 or 10 percent sugar [and] one for sap might be calibrated from 50 percent to 75 percent sugar.”

Finley explained how testing for sap with a refractometer can help a sugar bush operator determine which trees have sweeter sap and which trees produce sap with lower sugar levels. With different species of maple trees producing different levels of sugar, such as sugar maple trees producing more than red maples, and genetics, weather and “growth rate during the previous summer” impacting sugar – sap concentration, sap testing can help. This is where using a refractometer can help a sugaring operation determine a tree’s sap sugar content for management practices.

Finley said that this method can help sugaring operations increase productivity by identifying trees that produce sweeter sap early on.

If I go in the sugar bush today and I tested 50 trees in an hour, those that produce the best sugar in that hour are likely to continue to produce better sugar all the time. So I would say that’s a good tree; [as for] a poor tree, I’ll cut the poor tree and leave the really good tree.”

This process would be done before tapping occurs, for example, when trees are “4 inches in diameter; but thin the trees to increase the depth and width of crowns – so that they become better sugar producers.”

Finley explained because of the hydrometer’s inherent requirement for a sizeable quantity of syrup to test density, a refractometer used for sap would enable him to inject a needle into sample maples in his sugar bush and be able to test the sap’s density with a refractometer.

Calibration concerns

Regarding refractometers, temperature still impacts the density of a liquid, expanding as it gets warmer and contracting as it gets cooler. Hopkins recommended, “When you go to buy one, you should look for one that’s automatically temperature compensated. Then you don’t need the conversion card or you don’t need to do the math.”

Other ways to calibrate a handheld refractometer as Hopkins said is to see if there are “control” prisms or “certified solutions” that can provide you with a baseline reading. Used in conjunction with a screw that many often have, manufacturers give a greater opportunity for more accurate readings if calibration is doubted.

Hopkins explained that if a hydrometer is not lowered into a cup of syrup slow enough, it can sink and the stem may be coated as it bounces back up to float. With the extra syrup coating the stem, it could provide a false reading with the extra weight.

Whether testing a freshly boiled batch or conducting sugar bush management, taking time to determine what type of hydrometer is right at various times of the year can translate into some sweet sales.

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Every year, we hear of someone killed by a protective cow or bull. Raising cattle is a great way of life. However, keep in mind that these animals can turn aggressive. Being prepared will keep you and your cattle safe.

We all know that farming is one of the most dangerous occupations, yet we often think more in terms of farm machinery, not livestock. Every year, we hear of someone killed by a protective cow or bull. Raising cattle is a great way of life. However, keep in mind that these animals can turn aggressive. Being prepared will keep you and your cattle safe.

First, all beef producers must have a method of handling cattle for routine and emergency work. A properly designed and functioning handling facility should be on the farm before the first beef animal arrives. There is a lot of information from your extension office on handling systems, so I won’t go into details here. I want to focus instead on factors to employ to stay safe.

Use the checklists to evaluate your safety protocol.

Working safely is important for you, your family, employees and for the animals. Being aware of the points here will increase the likelihood that you will enjoy a great way of life.

Personnel
  1. Closely supervise new and inexperienced family members and/or employees.
  2. When possible, avoid working alone when loading or unloading stock.
  3. Reduce the risk of distraction – e.g. using a cellphone – when working with livestock.
  4. Have a first aid kit near the area of work.
  5. Ensure escape routes are available, clear and accessible.
  6. Ensure the operator is in a safe position when moving cattle.
Equipment
  1. Ensure latches, bolts and chains on gates are in good working order, and robust enough to contain stock.
  2. Do not overcrowd stock pens. Fill pens to two-thirds capacity to give stock room to move.
  3. Maintain facilities in good condition, grease where appropriate, tighten nuts.
  4. Keep pens and yards free of any obstructions – e.g. protruding nails, bolts, wire, trip hazards – to avoid injury and ensure free-flowing stock.
  5. Ensure the yard is well-designed to assist the smooth flow of cattle.
  6. Ensure loading facilities have well-positioned gates and consider adopting curved chutes and covered sides, to improve cattle movement.
  7. Use the natural following behavior of cattle to move them quietly and smoothly.
  8. Ensure loading ramp is not too steep or too slippery.
  9. Use animal-handling aids to move animals.
  10. Have adequate lighting.
  11. Never poke your head, arms or legs through the rails or boarding into the chute as this becomes a trapping space that may result in serious injury.
  12. Do not lean over an animal’s head.
Remember
  1. Never trust any bull — particularly the ‘lonely bull’ reared or kept in isolation.
  2. A bull that turns sideways to you is taking an aggressive posture. You must have an escape route.
  3. Never work bulls on your own.
  4. Never trust a quiet bull.
  5. Never turn your back on a bull.
  6. The older the bull, the more dangerous it can become.
  7. Move confidently – it is vital to demonstrate dominance.
  8. Don’t try to move a dangerous bull on foot or alone; use a vehicle.
  9. Always have a long strong cane or stick.
  10. Keep bulls moving at a trot until they’re well into the paddock and clear of the gate.
  11. Troublesome bulls can be moved by being included with the herd.
Cattle
  1. Know your cattle andwhich ones are the ones that will be difficult to handle.
  2. Have a system in place to manage difficult cattle. Consider culling. Many breeds now have a docility expected progeny difference. These should be included in your selection criteria.
  3. Avoid the blind spot directly behind cattle. They cannot see you and are more likely to kick when surprised.
  4. Understand that horned cattle are dangerous to other cattle and to you. Unless it is a breed requirement, all cattle should be polled or de-horned.
  5. Consider low-stress handling methods.
  6. If an animal is not caught correctly, missed and caught at the hips, immediately let the animal go and run it through the system again. Do not try to push the animal back in chute or do any management practices.
  7. Isolated animals are more dangerous than those in a group. Keep a buddy with them.
  8. Bulls are more aggressive during mating season and extremely dangerous when fighting.
Zoonotic Disease

We don’t usually think of disease hazards that can be transmitted from animals to humans when we talk about animal handling safety. Nonetheless, microbial hazards are present and you must be alert for them.

  • You should wash your hands with soap and water after handling animals, manure or urine, or animal products such as milk, meat, rumen samples, blood, fluids draining from wounds and placental membranes.
  • It is strongly encouraged that you do not eat or drink in areas where animals, animal wastes or animal products are being handled.
  • Farm clothing should be washed separately from family laundry, using the hot water setting and a disinfecting detergent.

Information adapted from: New York Center for Agricultural Medicine and Health (NYCAMH). www.nycamh.com. Working with Livestock: Fact Sheet. Safe Work, New South Wales. https://goo.gl/3PWhgo. Beef Cattle Handling: A Practical Safety Guide. November 2006. The Victorian Work Cover Authority

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Photos: Animal Welfare Approved, A Program of A Greener World

Food that is “humanely raised” is in high demand, according to recent literature from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Services. The publication reported that 51 percent of consumers indicate that humanely raised food is important or very important when weighing purchasing decisions. The report also found that 68 percent of respondents want to learn how farmers maintain animals while they’re being raised.

Concerns for humanely raised food were more important than food that was fair trade or organic, among other specialty claims. This report also noted that humanely raised products, including meat, could garner at least 10 percent, potentially more, in spending from consumers.

Current state of beef production

Including calves meant for veal production and the 10 million used for milk production, Colt W. Knight, Ph.D., assistant professor of Extension and state livestock specialist at the University of Maine’s Cooperative Extension, said that although there are 90 million cattle in the United States, “Only about 28 to 29 million are slaughtered a year for beef.” Beginning with “cow-calf operations,” as Knight said, the standard method of beef production consists of raising cows and their birthed calves until each calf is approximately 400 pounds. Then he explained the rest of a cattle’s pre-slaughter lifetime.

“[In] a stocker operation, in states where they have a surplus of grass or forage, these animals go there and live off eating that surplus grass until they’re old enough to go into a feedlot operation. Or they go into a background facility, which is a mix between stockers and getting them ready to go into the feedlot,” Knight said. “The cattle will actually get fed grain, but more forage than grain [and] when animals are about a year old, they’ll enter into a feedlot. That’s where we feed more grain and feed the animals until they’re about 1,300 or 1,400 pounds, and then they’re slaughtered at about 18 months old.”

A Greener World offers a grass-fed certification, Certified Grassfed by AGW.
Why the demand for humanely raised beef

With many people unfamiliar with the farm-to-table process of raising cattle, people don’t necessarily know what happens before their meat reaches the supermarket. This lack of knowledge combines with documentaries and animal welfare groups issuing content that raises concerns, as Knight mentioned, “Some of [which] are legitimate and some are sensationalized.”

With grass-fed beef seeing more interest, especially in Maine, this could present beef livestock owners with an opportunity to help qualify for humane certification because some humane certification programs mandate animals are pasture-raised, not relegated to a feedlot. Obtaining humane beef certification may be an option that could reach another consumer segment.

Certification overview

Andrew Gunther, executive director of A Greener World and who speaks on behalf of the Animal Welfare Approved certifying organization, stated that a farm audit or plant review is a straightforward process; it’s just an evaluation of the operation’s compliance with AWA’s published standards.

“The auditor inspects all aspects of the farm, including the land, animals, shelter, feed, supplements, pest control, transport equipment and records,” he said. “We are a farming-based program driven by practical science and grounded in the everyday reality of farm life. We also recognize that each farmer is the expert on their own farm. With that understanding we don’t tell farms how to meet our standards, we just verify whether they are meeting them. All of our audits are confidential and participation in the program is voluntary.”

Gunther noted that his organization works with farmers and ranchers across the U.S. and Canada with a focus on the independent farmer.

“At the end of the day, they are a farmer who has to make a living from farming,” he said. “We require the animals to be on pasture and range. We allow very few alterations to the animal and we prohibit castration beyond a certain age. It’s very animal centered. As part of that you then have some environmental outcomes in terms of making sure we don’t use herbicides and chemicals.”

Steps for certification

As part of the application and auditing process, Philip Ackerman-Leist, director of the Green Mountain College Farm & Food Project and professor of Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems, highlighted criteria that is part of the processes to become certified.

Examples of anatomical modifications

When it comes to “the disbudding or dehorning,” as Ackerman-Leist said, guidelines exist within different organizations. For example, with Animal Welfare Approved Standards, hot iron cauterization is permitted for disbudding only, but only up to the first two months of a calf’s life. Anesthetizing agents must also be applied to the impacted areas, per AWA’s requirements.

Castration

Ackerman-Leist also cautioned farmers to be aware of an organization’s specific castration guidelines.

“Castration starts to bring in similar types of questions as to when that’s allowed. That varies in terms of how highly regulated the castration is in terms of timing and process.”

AWA forbids the use of manmade or natural chemical castration or testosterone blocking methods, including interfering with natural immune system responses to induce castration. Ring or rubber band castration is not allowed for calves after they are 7 days old. Burdizzo castration and scalpel methods are not allowed on calves older than two months.

Slaughter requirements

“At the same time we’re probably looking at where the animals will be slaughtered and looking at sending somebody to the slaughter plant to make sure everything [that] goes on at the slaughter plant is [in] compliance with our standards,” Gunther said.

Confinement considerations

If certification is being considered, Ackerman-Leist suggests looking at your farm’s infrastructure and feeding routine because it directly impacts animal management and therefore certification.

AWA is a market-based certification program that gives farmers and ranchers credit for sustainable practices.

AWA is a market-based certification program that gives farmers and ranchers credit for sustainable practices.

Ackerman-Leist discussed how confinement impacts cattle and how that must be considered for certification, which varies depending on the individual certifying agency.

“I think that most of us agree that it’s an issue of confinement. Confinement has several different issues that are important to consider. One is the comfort of the animal and its ability to get out and move around,” Ackerman-Leist said.

Management concerns Ackerman-Leist raised include if cattle come back to or are left in the same place. Without adequate consideration, fecal matter can build up and may become pervasive in the environment, including the feed. Disease issues may arise, which can call into question use of antibiotics.

With confinement normally requiring feed brought to the animal, it can impact the animal’s health. Because those on pasture are naturally able to exercise more, it also increases the “disbursal rate” of fecal matter and urine. This lowers the risk of potential diseases, chiefly parasites, reducing the risk of cattle becoming sick.

Although each certification organization has their unique standards, Ackerman-Leist also pointed out that the “distinguishing factor is access to pasture, sometimes that’s defined as DMI or dry matter intake,” such as with the 2011 USDA/Organic standards stipulating 30 percent of DMI originating from pasture. He continues to explain how seasonality impacts regional requirements.

“That becomes a seasonal question as to how far you can stretch that out. When you look at the different standards,” Ackerman-Leist explained, “it typically jibes with the amount of time that it’s reasonable to have animals out on pasture. That might be as little as 120 days in certain environments or as much as 365 days in other environments.”

Of all the factors, he puts great emphasis on the feeding pattern, and asks how the farmer is managing their pasture.

AWA standards necessitate “continuous outdoor pasture access for all beef cattle.”

Additionally, although a rotational approach is the preferred method for beef cattle to range upon, it’s not the only acceptable manner, as long as there’s an acceptable alternative that still provides that a “goal of high welfare is not jeopardized” per AWA’s standards.

Along with pasture activities not removing more than 20 percent of the area, there are limited exceptions to the pasture requirements. Examples include if pasture is subject to snow cover or weather or safety considerations. Documented in writing through an “animal management” plan, farmers must list what environmental factors prompted the removal, the space used in accordance with AWA’s guidelines and what factors will permit animals back on pasture for any scheduled off-pasture housing or for unscheduled removals from pasture beyond 28 days.

Nutritional considerations

When it comes to nutritional requirements, as Knight noted, becoming humanely certified may entail a prohibition on using “growth promotants,” which includes hormone implants or certain antibiotics, like Rumensin. In contrast to meat sales, regardless of the type of meat and the type and frequency of growth promotants, generally speaking, there’s a required time frame for all animals slaughtered to have either substance withheld before they are slated for slaughter. Knight explained, “The withdrawal period is there so that they naturally clear out from their system.”

Benefits for producers of humanely raised beef

Ackerman-Leist said this type of certification can help a producer set their operation apart.

“There are more small- to medium-scale producers, along with large-scale producers. For those of us who are small to mid-scale, there are more and more around, which is a promising thing. [However], it means that whereas we’ve had to differentiate ourselves in the larger market place, we’re also having to differentiate ourselves from one another, even within our own communities.”

Impacts of a stressful environment, as Knight explained, can impact an animal’s immune system, making it function suboptimally, increasing the chances of an infection. It can also reduce the quality of a slaughtered animal or as he puts it, “treating your animals better translates into a better product.”

How treatment negatively impacts beef cattle

Knight noted that another benefit of humanely raised beef is increased marketability to slaughterhouses and processing facilities. He explained that slaughterhouses and processing plants look at every carcass to determine its characteristics. Naturally, better carcasses command better prices and incentivize an ongoing relationship for future purchases. As Knight said, “From a production standpoint, humanely raised animals provide better carcasses, and better carcasses sell better.”

“Sustainability is an outcome of place. It’s not necessarily an outcome of system,” Gunther said. “If you take care of the animal, you take care of the land and you take care of your local community and the consumer, you’ll have a truly sustainable product.”

Read more: What Do Beef Labels Mean?

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