For more than 20 years, Mario Busque and Denise Rancourt have operated their family sugar bush in Beauce, halfway between Quebec City and the state of Maine. Our team spoke with the couple of seasoned maple syrup makers to find out more about their activities. What particularly interested us? Since 2011, they have been using an all-terrain vehicle equipped with a track system to perform various tasks related to their maple syrup production.
Can you tell us about your sugar bush, its history and operations?
The maple grove sits on 70 acres of land and we have 1,800 taps (maples that produce maple sap). Maple syrup farming is an integral part of our family and what is impressive is that this sugar bush has always belonged to the Busque family and that it has been passed down from generation to generation: our ancestors bought it directly from the Lord of Léry in 1894. My father operated it with his brother for several years and at that time, all the harvest was done in a traditional way with buckets and horses. We still have the ancestral buildings on the land, including a small camp, a stable and the sugar shack. When we took over the operations in 1999, we updated the facilities with tubing and built a more modern sugar shack, with pumping station, separator and oil boiler. As we were both working full time at the time and that making maple syrup is an activity that we do for fun, we opted for equipment that allows us to maximize our time.
Why did you choose to use an all-terrain vehicle for the various tasks in the sugar bush?
For several years we used a snowmobile to access the land and these machines are still popular with many syrup producers. The good thing about the ATV equipped with a track system is that you can go anywhere and you don't get stuck where you could with a snowmobile. It is much easier to move forward and backward in loose snow: we can have up to 3 or 4 feet of snow in the forest and the track system acts like snowshoes, we can go everywhere without hassle. Then on the practical side, I added two boxes on the racks of the ATV, which allow us to drag more tools like the chainsaw and equipment for various repairs and maintenance.
Brand and model of ATV: Suzuki KingQuad LTA 50 (500 cc) 2011
Track system: TJD
Dealership: Maurice Brousseau et Fils
Under what conditions do you use your ATV equipped with a track system?
The terrain is quite varied, some places are more accessible while there are other parts where the terrain is rough and there are steep hills. There is a forest path accessible by ATV or tractor that goes all the way to the end of the land. We use the ATV with the track system 100% in the snow to go around the forest. It is a choice that we make and it is what motivated the purchase of the track systems, to be able to access all our land in winter, no matter what the conditions. We can go further than we could with another vehicle and have quick access to all corners of the sugar bush, it's really extraordinary! There are five main activities where we use the vehicle equipped with the track system:
- Tapping: since maple trees have to be tapped each season (we drill a hole and put in a tap), we use the ATV to get to the four corners of the sugar bush.
- Maintenance and repairs of tubing installations: to carry maintenance equipment, bring in stakes and a ladder, etc.
- Untapping: at the end of the season we remove the taps on each tree and the ATV allows us to access them and also to bring buckets of water to clean the main lines.
- Lumbering: in addition to allowing us to get to the trees to be cut, the ATV allows us to move the trees using chains and we also have a custom winch on skis.
- Beat the paths: at the start of the season we use the ATV to beat the main path, which then makes it easier to move around on snowshoes.
Can you tell us about the maintenance, installation and storage of track systems?
What surprised me the most when I bought the track systems was how easy installation was. I am an accountant by training and far from being an outstanding mechanic, so this is definitely a key element as I can install my track system or tires myself from the comfort of my garage. The track system I purchased is from the TDJ brand (a brand owned by Camso) and when I purchased it in 2011 there was no installation guide. So I put together my own guide with photos. The installation takes me about 1.5 to 2 hours overall and I do it alone. The track system is very reliable: during the winter season, we use it every week (especially weekends) and I haven't had to replace any parts so far. As for maintenance, I don't do anything special, but make sure to bring the ATV into the warm garage each night so that the snow and ice melt and the vehicle is ready the next day. As mentioned above, I only use the track system in snow, which is the main need with the sugar bush.
This is what concludes our interview with this couple of Quebec maple syrup producers. We hope you enjoyed this testimonial and wish a good maple syrup making season to all those who, like Mario and Denise, are in the middle of the production season! As you can see, it is impressive to see all the applications where track systems can be used. If you are considering purchasing track systems for your ATV or side-by-side, please do not hesitate to contact your local dealer!