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Maple School in session Saturday

Western New York's maple producers are making the most of the dormant period of the sugar maple's life cycle and will meet Saturday to study various aspects of their craft, which has become a key niche market in New York's economy.

Commercial and hobby maple producers, many of them members of the Western New York and Wyoming County Maple Producers associations, will spend the day at the Western New York Maple School and Trade Show in Letchworth Central School.

More than 100 producers attend this event each year to stay abreast of industry innovations, come up with methods to hook more consumers on the vitamin- and mineral-laden natural product and to rub elbows with other folks who are just as enthusiastic about the upcoming "sugaring-off" season. The state's syrup volume has made it the fourth-largest producer in the world, and its taste has been judged the best.

Throughout the one-day school, producers will choose from three concurrent educational sessions and workshops in five time slots. These will be held in the school's classrooms and cover the basics of syrup-making and forestry, equipment, business management, adding value to the product and marketing, marketing, marketing.

Production levels and sales for 2006 are sure to be a hot topic. At last year's Maple School, members of the Western New York Maple Producers were given the challenge to increase by just a few ounces the annual U.S. per capita consumption of three ounces of maple syrup -- only enough to sweeten one stack of pancakes.

The producers also are expected to discuss plans for the 2007 Maple Weekend, which got its start almost a decade ago by Wyoming County's maple producers, who hoped to get consumers interested in how maple syrup is made by inviting them to visit sugar shanties and come to pancake breakfasts.

What began as Maple Sunday is now a statewide Maple Weekend that actually takes place over two weekends, March 17-18 and March 24-25.

The program begins with the trade show at 9 a.m. At 1 p.m., attendees will help select a 2007 Maple Queen and receive Association news reports and a presentation from the Cornell Maple research staff.

Lunch, which has in the past featured -- guess what? -- pancakes smothered in the previous year's crop of maple syrup, is included in the $10 cost of the school.

The school is open to the public. For more information, contact Lutie C. Batt at Wyoming County's Cornell Cooperative Extension Office in Warsaw at (585) 786-2251.

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