Agricultural District #4

On February 28, 2023, New York State recertified Ulster County Agricultural District #4 per Article 25AA § 303-a (agricultural districts review) of New York State Agriculture and Markets Law. 

Maps of Ulster County Agricultural District #4:

  1. Hurley Flats
  2. Catskills
  3. Saugerties and Lake Katrine
  4. Municipal Boundaries - Entire District 
  5. Topography - Entire District

The maps above come from its periodic review completed in February 2023. The number of tax parcels in an Ulster County agricultural district is very likely to change after its review. Maps were created by Ulster County Information Services and submitted to Cornell University's Institute for Resource Information Sciences and the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets.

An analysis conducted in 2022 of agriculture and related changes to land use in Agricultural District #4 can be downloaded here.

Description of Agricultural District #4

Agricultural District #4 has tax parcels in Shandaken, Woodstock, Hurley, Saugerties, Ulster, Kingston, northern Olive, and northern and eastern Marbletown. The District is a diverse one. Much of the land area in the District is along the Esopus Creek as farms growing field crops, but also truck crops in locations providing good access to markets in Ulster County and beyond. In the part of the District with the Catskill Mountains, maple sugaring operations collect sap from trees on mountainsides.

Maple Syrup

Maple syrup begins at the roots.  Maple syrup starts as ground water brought in by tree roots with sugar added when it reaches the canopy.  A tree’s roots and cells work together to move water upward.  But even with capillary action by a tree’s cells, water can only reach a certain height.  At some point, leaves participate, and using evapotranspiration to release water into the atmosphere, room is made to pull water through the branches and into the leaves themselves.  Leaves then add sugar to the water.  What water that doesn't go into the atmosphere, makes its way back down the tree to get stored as starch or go through this cycle again with new water brought in from the roots.  It’s this maple water also called sap that gets turned into maple syrup.

Sugar accumulates in maple trees when they have leaves.  Towards the end of winter, long after leaves haven fallen to the ground, maple water is ready for collection.  Temperatures above and below freezing create differences in air pressure and spur movement of maple water.  It’s this normal change in temperature between daytime and nighttime that moves maple water through taps inserted at the base of trees.   Once it leaves the taps, man-made equipment transports maple water.

A popular image of a maple farm, albeit a dated one, is of trees with taps dripping maple water into metal buckets.  People would then haul these buckets to a sugar house to be boiled down into syrup.  Modern maple farms, though, collect and transport maple water more efficiently using a network of tubing or sap lines that lead to large containers.  Maple water collection evolved into a technologically driven process.

There are three types of sap lines: drop, lateral and main.  On maple trees, drop lines connect taps to lateral lines.  Larger trees may have more than one tap, and multiple drop lines will connect to a lateral line.  A lateral line can serve up to fifteen taps, depending on the technology used.  Lateral lines transport maple water to main lines, which often empty into containers, but can also lead directly to a sugar house.  Multiple main lines can connect, creating a downstream main line that handles the volume of an entire network. These tree-like networks make their way up, down and along the slope of a hillside at a maple farm.

Sugar bush refers to a forest used for producing maple products.  (Many also use it in reference to a maple farm.) Terrain in these forests plays an important role in maple syrup production.  Hilly terrain allows gravity to pull maple water through lines. These gravity-fed sap lines save energy and keep labor and transport costs down.  These sap lines can also be installed in a way that creates a pressurized environment, which helps pull maple water through a network, kind of how water moves in trees.   When necessary, mechanical equipment is used to facilitate the transport of maple water through the network of sap lines, especially over flat terrain or going uphill, or if it is worth the cost of getting more production out of existing taps.

Maple farms need access to a lot of maple trees.  Maple water is about 98% water and 2% sugar. That means maple farms need a large amount of maple water to make enough syrup and be commercially viable.  Operating on large tracts of land also means maple farms can keep costs down by needing fewer containers, reducing fuel usage by not driving to as many properties, etc.  Anything reducing the amount of work done saves on labor costs, because there’s plenty of work to be done in a maple sugaring operation.  Maple farms will lease land to increase their capacity for production, adding to what they already produce from their own land.   Sometimes individuals collect maple water on their own land and sell it to maple farms. These individuals may even deliver the maple water themselves.

Maple Farm, Ulster County, NYMaple farms look to collect a large enough volume of maple water as cost-effectively as possible, lowering the cost of producing a bottle of maple syrup, a package of maple sugar, etc.   So it only makes sense to find maple farms in areas with a lot of maple trees.

In Ulster County, Agricultural District #4 sees a good deal of the County’s maple water collection.  It has hills, mountains and a lot of maple trees.  Places to the north produce much of the maple syrup for market.  New York State produces a lot of maple syrup. Vermont produces the most in the United States. Quebec produces the most maple syrup anywhere.

At your local supermarket, you will see a variety of maple syrups for sale. Lined up for display along a shelf in some aisle are different brands, from different states or provinces.  These brands have different packaging and differently shaped bottles.  One of these differences may catch your eye along with price.  You may be a more discerning consumer, and know that maple syrup comes in different shades of amber, each differing somewhat in how they taste.  Maybe a particular brand draws your attention just by being on a shelf at eye level.   A purchase is made, if you so choose.  And finally, maple syrup ends up poured over a plate of pancakes or french toast, and enjoyed.

Contact Burt Samuelson of the Ulster County Planning Department with questions at (845) 339-2490 or bsam[at]co.ulster.ny[dot]us