Gagne, who used to spend days on end patrolling his own sugar bush in Swanton, came up with the idea several years ago, teaming up with Canadian sugar-maker Doug Thompson to develop the product.
The University of Vermont's Proctor Maple Research Center is using a similar remote monitoring system for the first time this season, as the technology becomes more commercially available. Smartrek, produced by a Quebec-based company, also monitors sap lines for leaks and provides the information immediately on a smartphone or tablet.
Nationally, maple syrup production totaled 3.25 million gallons last year. Vermont led with 1.3 million gallons, followed by New York, Maine, Wisconsin, Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Connecticut. Each of those gallons of syrup required sugar-makers to collect 40 gallons of sap.
It takes warm days and cold nights for sap to flow, so the conditions are just right for syrup-making for only about 4 to 6 weeks. And cold weather has already pushed back Vermont's season this year. But Proctor researchers expect the new system to make their operation more efficient and productive. It will also give sugar-makers, who are prone to staying up late to boil sap down to syrup, a few extra hours of sleep, said Brian Stowe, Proctor's sugaring operations manager.
"We find that a lot of sugar-makers get sleep deprived during the season, this again they can take a quick look from their house and then they can go to bed and get some good sleep and not have to worry," Stowe said.
The ideal system would have a sensor at the end of each of the main lines. But that can be expensive for some sugar-makers — about $200 per Smartrek vacuum sensor and $400 for a tank level sensor — so some sugar-makers may start with a smaller number depending on what they want to monitor.