MONTANA, Wis. – Sugaring season is the highlight of the year for Arick Pronschinske, who collects and processes maple sap on his parents’ dairy farm in eastern Buffalo County, Wisconsin. Pronschinske works his sugarbush with help from his mom, Susan Pronschinske. This is their eighth year in business; they recently upgraded to a reverse-osmosis system to shorten the work.

Arick Pronschinske started by bringing a few maple taps home. He then bought a few more and his infatuation with sugaring quickly turned to an obsession. That first year the two rigged some cement blocks and two restaurant pans over an open fire in the yard for cooking the syrup. They collected their sap in buckets.

“We think we were real hillbillies cooking on the other ones,” Susan Pronschinske said. “It’s kind of humorous how primitive we were.”

Two years later they bought their first evaporator and moved to a small shed. But they still needed to watch everything closely to keep from burning the syrup and to be sure it cooked down at the right temperatures.

With a new evaporator and the reverse-osmosis system, this year is off to a great start with more automation. Sap is collected with tubing instead of buckets. It’s then pulled into the shed by a diaphragm pump to be deposited into an old bulk tank.

From there it goes to the reverse-osmosis machine where some of the water is pulled out of the sap. Sugar molecules are smaller than water so membranes in the reverse osmosis catch the water, which is pure and recycled for later use. The sap is sent to another bulk tank; at that point it’s at a 15:1 ratio, after starting at a ratio of 40 parts water to 1 part sap.

The syrup is perishable so it needs to be kept cool or immediately processed. The concentrated syrup goes through the wood-fired evaporator where it’s boiled to cook out more of the water. It’s taken down to proper sugar levels for the maple syrup used on pancakes. Although the new evaporator is more high-tech than the old one, it still takes a lot of careful monitoring of the system.

At that point the syrup is cloudy from the natural minerals, called sugar sand; it’s in need of filtering, which is done with food-grade diatomaceous earth. The finished-syrup color depends on the trees, the weather and how long it cooks. When it’s ready for bottling, the new evaporator works like a water-bath canner to seal the bottles and jars.

Arick Pronschinske moves most of the syrup into 5-gallon jugs for selling wholesale, which he said he prefers.

“I can fill it; I can sell it,” he said.

He does bottle enough for his mom to sell at a local farmers market with her vegetables and cut flowers.

The evaporator was purchased with a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Resources Conservation Service after an energy audit revealed the new equipment would be more energy-efficient.

“We are using about a quarter of the wood with the new set-up with resources we have available,” Pronschinske said.

Because they’re in the hilly Driftless Area region of the state, they have plenty of trees for firing the evaporator. And they’re blessed with a grove of maples, which are rare in their area of west-central Wisconsin. This year they tapped 150 trees spread across 2 acres and they think they could do another 100 trees. They also work on two other small areas – one on their land and one rented from a local farmer.

“A lot of people don’t realize what money they could make from maple,” Pronschinske said. “They have the land already; they have the trees.”

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This is an original article written for Agri-View, a Lee Enterprises agricultural publication based in Madison, Wisconsin. Visit for more information.

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LeeAnne Bulman writes about agriculture from her farm overlooking the beautiful Danuser Valley on Wisconsin’s west coast. Email to reach her.

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