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March 14, 2013 By adminEveryone’s favorite Canadian astronaut/YouTube sensation is back to explain how food tastes in space. The answer: different! Sort of. As soon as you enter orbit, your Read More »
March 14, 2013 By adminExpecting better season than last year The sap at sugar bush farms in New Brunswick is flowing ahead of schedule, which has maple syrup producers expecting Read More »
March 14, 2013 By adminHADLEY, Mass. (Mass Appeal) – No plate of pancakes…or waffles… is complete without a helping of syrup. But how is this sticky goodness made? Well we Read More »
February 01, 2013 By admin“Natural maple flavor,” caffeine, butter flavoring, and invert sugar are just four of the ingredients that make up the unholiest of breakfast condiments, Wired Wyatt’s Caffeinated Syrup, Read More »
August 06, 2012 By adminWhat do glaciers, maple syrup and lobsters have in common? They’re all symptoms of global warming — the worldwide process of climate change that has become Read More »
Tag Archives: sugaring season
On April 19, the federal and provincial governments invested almost $700,000 to help four maple sugar producers expand and improve their competitiveness.
The funding will help maple syrup producers Guy Levesque Inc., Érablymax Inc., Érablière Laplante et Fils Inc. and Érablière du Nord-Ouest Inc.
At Érablière Guy Levesque Inc., the project will help expand the establishment by acquiring more efficient maple syrup processing equipment and adding 7,000 taps to existing operations.
Producer Érablymax Inc. will replace 15,000 taps, while Érablière Laplante et Fils Inc. will install 23,000 new taps.
The project at Érablière du Nord-Ouest Inc. involves the conversion of two oil-burning evaporators to a wood pellet system.
The federal government, through ACOA’s Business Development Program, will contribute $530,350 toward the four projects while the province will invest $149,200. The four maple syrup producers will invest a total of $367,510.
No news that the weather is pretty strange lately and that includes in the Hudson Valley, where we’re amassing broken records at a record-breaking pace: the hottest March, the hottest first quarter, and most recently, the hottest April 15th, when it was 91. Another all-timer (at least at our house) is the annual magnolia trashing, this year the earliest by a country mile.
The pattern itself is always the same: 1) multi-week warm spell, 2) magnolia blooms, 3) seasonally-appropriate frost comes, 4) flowers turn brown. But it used to happen between late April and early May. Then the whole sequence moved back to April.
In 2012, all March. Bloom started around the 10th and was thoroughly whacked when the temperature dropped to 25 degrees on the night of the 26th.
Meanwhile, the combo of February and March was the 3rd driest on record and April is not shaping up well.
I could go on, among other things airing the usual caveat that this is weather, not climate. But I’d rather cut to this not-climate’s effect on the maple syrup industry, as described in the crop reports written by Arnold Coombs, a seventh generation maple syrup producer and packer in Vermont.
Full disclosure: The 2012 crop report abbreviated below was originally sent to me by the farm’s publicist, who thought it might provide a story about the connections between maple syrup and climate change.
Indeed it does. Especially when combined with Mr. Coomb’s reports from 2009 (best crop in the last 75 years) and 2010 (production dramatically below average).
Up, down, up, down, way hot, way not, dust-bowl dry and then hundred-year flooded, the globe is on a violent weather see-saw that is not well described by “warming,” a word that usually evokes something pleasant. “Climate change” is a little better, but not by much. Change isn’t always pleasant, but it’s beneficial at least as often as it is harmful, which cannot be said about the see-saw.
The search for a term that is both scientifically defensible and sufficiently horrifying is ongoing. Meanwhile, here’s an on-the-ground look at the shape of things to come, and following that, links to a few recipes. Maple syrup shortages and price hikes are probably inevitable, but they’re not likely to be crippling, especially given that our local, sustainable sweetener is not only delicious but also, for what it is, inexpensive.
2012 Preliminary Crop Report
By Arnold Coombs (edited and condensed by me)
Following a huge crop like 2011, the 2012 crop had a tough act to follow. The winter weather was most unusual with temperatures well above average. In southern VT and NH we had only two significant snow storms with the biggest being in October.
Because of the warmth and the lack of snow, getting around in the woods was much easier. Most sugar makers were ready to start producing early, but then in the week of March 19th, temperatures hit the 70s for four days in a row and ended our season prematurely.
This year, half of last year’s record amount seems to be normal, which translates into about 70% of an average crop for some, less for others. We estimate the final US production at 18,000,000 lbs. compared to over 30,000,000 lbs. last year. Canadian production looks to be similar. What does that mean for prices? They will be going up. How much? That is still to be determined…
The farmers’ union in Quebec increased the base of syrup price 3% and with other costs rising (what isn’t going up?) we see a minimum increase of 5%…. pricing usually settles down by Late May or early June.
Due to the warmer weather, this year’s crop is running darker than usual, (last year the crop was 30% Grade A Light Amber and this year it is 5%) but the flavor is still quite good and we have plenty.
Personally, I’m delighted. As long it isn’t “buddy” (off-flavored because the tree has started to leaf out) I like the darker grade B better anyway.
Rising maple syrup production in Vermont is sending more sugarmakers across state lines seeking new buyers for their product.
Now, sugarmakers also are looking to Montpelier as legislators debate a bill that the Vermont Maple Sugarmaker’s Association says would make Vermont syrup more marketable on national and international markets. The bill, which passed the Senate and is now in the House Agriculture Committee, would change syrup labeling laws and establish a food safety certification program for sugarmakers.
Sam Cutting Jr., owner of Ferrisburgh’s Dakin Farm and chairman of the Vermont Maple Industry Council, said the voluntary certification system in particular would help sugarmakers in Vermont stay competitive.
The new certification would be administered by the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets, cost producers a fee between $300 and $500 (the certification would remain valid for a number of years) and involve a safety inspection of equipment and processes at the sugarhouse. It would be primarily for those sugarmakers who sell their product to a larger-scale maple syrup packager.
“There’s a real need, because up until this year there’s been a very large (Vermont) crop,” said Cutting. “If we don’t have this type of certification, buyers may look out of state.”
Just over the border, Quebec sugarmakers already have a quality assurance certification program.
Rep. Will Stevens, I-Shoreham, said last week that he still has some questions about the certification program as it stands. He said he’s not sure about administering a certification program through the Agency of Agriculture.
“It’s already in the conflicting role of development and enforcement,” said Stevens. “I’m not sure that the ag agency is disinterested.”
But he said that it’s not a bad idea to establish a proactive certification in addition to the existing system of quality checks after the maple products have been produced.
The bill would also alter the maple grading system from the current one, established in the 1980s — fancy, Grade A medium, Grade A dark and Grade B — to one that describes flavor and appearance — Golden, Amber, Dark and Very Dark. The four would all fall within the Grade A definition.
The new grading system would bring Vermont in line with the system approved by the International Maple Syrup Institute, which has proposed these changes to regulatory agencies in the United States and Canada by the 2013 sugaring season. Stevens said the USDA has agreed to adopt the new grading system as soon as one state adopts it.
Cutting said the proposed new definitions would help clarify the different types of syrup for consumers, since they also include taste descriptors like “strong” (for Very Dark) and “delicate” (for Golden).
Stevens said a key point for him is that the old system of grading wouldn’t have to be thrown out entirely — sugarmakers would only have one more piece of information to add to their existing labels.
Some sugarmakers, said Cutting, have misgivings about conforming to an international system, and about changing an existing system that they say is perfectly good. But Cutting said this offers more clarification for those unfamiliar with syrup type.
“People wouldn’t buy Grade B meat, but that’s one of the most popular types of syrup,” said Cutting. “We need to sell our syrup all over the world, and be clear to consumers what the grades actually mean.”
Prudent Living, an Upper Valley company offering services, strategies, products and a community that encourage a prudent way of life, including alternative energy solutions, is installing a large solar power system for Hidden Springs Maple Syrup’s new headquarters in Putney, VT. Hidden Springs is a family-owned and operated producer of pure maple syrup, selling on-line across the US. The new photovoltaic system will generate electricity and offset electric utility costs. The new PV system uses seventy-two 235-watt solar modules; the 17-kilowatt system generates enough energy to completely power three average homes. The new post-and-beam Hidden Springs headquarters is heated and cooled primarily by geo-thermal energy.
According to Prudent Living Vice-President Tim Biebel, the photovoltaic system is projected to save as much as 70 to 80% on electricity costs, depending upon usage. “This is a fantastic project,” Biebel stated. “What’s cool is Hidden Springs is making a product from nature– syrup–and now they will be doing that with clean energy from the sun. So, they will be using the sun for both their product and their process. Plus, it’s smart business. They’ve set themselves up for levelized energy costs: every year for the next 25 years they’ll know what their electricity costs will be. They are immune to electricity cost increases, thanks to this new PV system. We enjoyed working with a good environmental steward like Hidden Springs and are excited about the leadership they are showing.”
Renewable energy made so much sense to Hidden Springs that they decided to use an alternative energy solution to power their alternative energy solution. “We believe in renewable energy,” said Hidden Springs Manager Sarah Weck. “Our geo-thermal system powers the building, providing most of the heat in both the store and the attached house. But, the geo-thermal system requires a lot of electricity which costs a lot of money. So, we decided to put solar panels on our huge, southern-facing roof and use free solar energy to power our geo-thermal system. We’re very happy with our decision. Prudent Living has a lot of experience and did a great job explaining the process and installing the system. We look forward to generating so much free electricity with our new solar panel system that we’ll be able to offset energy costs at our other locations.”
Prudent Living is an Upper Valley company offering services, strategies, products and a community that encourage a prudent way of life. Started in 2009 by Biebel Builders, quality home and commercial builders in Windsor, Vermont since 1976, Prudent Living provides customers with energy-efficient architectural design; green strategies for homebuilding and renovation; energy audits; and renewable alternatives such as solar, wind and geothermal. More than just builders of houses, Prudent Living helps people build an intentional life –whether it’s by carefully managing natural resources, spending more wisely by investing in a home energy audit and energy efficient upgrades, or by safeguarding the health of the planet and contributing positively to the environment. The Prudent Living community relies on the dynamic web site, informative blogs and free quarterly Prudent Living e-Magazine for practical suggestions for daily life. The company will soon launch Prudent Living Market, an e-commerce site of prudent products.
Maple syrup farmers not the only food producers facing climate change
could mainline maple syrup. Ever since I was a kid, I loved it so much I would hone in on it like a wasp at a barbecue if there was even a whiff of r-e-a-l maple syrup within a 50-km radius.
Albertans back then had a unique way of drawing out the adjective “real” that they invariably paired up with “maple syrup” like they were conjoined twins. The emphasis not only heightened the distance from those phony maple-flavoured imitators with ersatz flavouring in a fructose-corn syrup concoction, it also connoted values like rare, expensive — something proudly Canadian to be treasured and measured out of the tiny jug bottles that were carefully brought out from secret hiding places in the cupboard or fridge (the jury was still out on where it should be kept).
The “real” also proved you knew better.
Today, Luc Bergeron’s Canada No. 3 dark (foncé) organic maple syrup transforms my porridge, my pancakes, and my sinfully fatty organic yogurt. Gorgeous maple sugar transforms my equally sinful vanilla ice cream, along with a handle of toasted walnuts, organic, again, and straight from the orchards in Summerland. These are simple but heavenly treats for a woman who hates to spend time making desserts — treats only afforded by the luxury of real maple syrup.
So my graying eyebrows arched even higher the other day when I read that maple syrup producers in Quebec, who are responsible for three-quarters of the world’s supply, are akimbo this spring over what some are calling disastrous; catastrophic; the worst maple syrup season in memory.
“Not since the 1940s has there been a year with such a strange transition in weather patterns from winter to spring. And this radical swing from cold to hot in a matter of days has played havoc with maple syrup production,” says a report in the Haliburton Highlander, which circulates in central Ontario not far from Quebec, smack in the heart of Ontario’s maple sugar country.
The Ontario Maple Syrup Producers Association predicts a multimillion-dollar loss for producers due to output that’s down at least 50 per cent in parts of the province. Quebec’s association of producers says it’s too early yet to tell how their producers will be hit financially.
But everyone from industry spokespeople to the farmers who turn on the syrup taps on the trees lays the problem squarely at the feet of climate change. And they expect to see even more impacts in the future as maple tree ecosystems are stressed with drought, heat waves and other extremes.
In fact, eastern maple syrup producers, including those in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, are worried that if a cold snap follows the recent heat wave, which caused the sap to flow too early, trees could be irrevocably damaged.
This kind of extreme weather back east — where hot days are making people turn up in shorts and Hawaiian shirts at maple syrup tastings where they used to huddle in parkas while the boiled syrup was poured over fresh snow — is occurring all over the world.
Canadians are famous for giggling that they love climate change. Previously known as global warming (warming temperatures around the world are only one aspect of climate change), I remember Canadians laughing and saying, global warming — bring it on, with visions of, yes, tropical shirts and shorts dancing in their heads.
Now many have stopped laughing as they witness the gravity of the situation — including how finely tuned, carefully balanced ecosystems are at stake, with our food supply systems at the top of the list.
The World Meteorological Organization released its annual report for 2011 a few weeks ago, and although world temperatures last year did not reach the record-setting highs of 2010, last year was the 11th warmest year on record since 1880, and the warmest year during which a major La Niña event occurred in the Pacific. And we West Coasters know that La Niña, especially a big one like last year’s, always has a cooling effect.
More to the point, the WMO report calls 2011 a year of “climate extremes”.
You don’t have to tell that to the maple syrup producers. Nor to our farmers in Pemberton, impatient to get their seed in the ground as they wrestle with unseasonably cool, wet weather. Or to the wheat farmers in southern Alberta and Saskatchewan who, looking out over their tinder-dry bare fields that saw wildfires in January, are recalling the dust bowl of the “Dirty Thirties”.
One of the most terrible “extremes” last year saw flooding in many parts of the world, especially Southeast Asia where one-third of Thailand was under water at one point. More than 20,000 sq km of agricultural land was damaged and millions of people impacted in that country’s worst flooding ever.
Last spring, the U.S. saw 173 tornadoes in 24 hours — a new record according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. And, like Thailand, the Mississippi River valley also saw extreme flooding on some of the most fertile farmland in America.
On top of extremes like these, more general changes in climate have experts around the world scrambling.
Scientists are warning corn farmers in the American Midwest that changing climatic patterns that will bring more rain could decrease crop production by up to 30 per cent. In the Middle East and Eurasia, they’re witnessing the alarming spread of an unusually virulent variety of wheat rust out of Africa. Yes, horticulturalists can breed rust-resistant wheat, but on average it takes 12 years to do so. The rust’s life cycle is months.
While food security is just one issue hooked into our changing climate, it’s one that is so universal and palpable it makes me hopeful that policy makers and my fellow citizens alike might finally find the courage to face climate change — action scientists have been urging us to take for decades.
In eastern Canada, in one hopeful example, an innovative professor is using the maple syrup dilemma to develop an educational package for teachers to share with their classes about climate change.
In the meantime, as for storing that treasured maple syrup properly, you really should keep it in the fridge or even the freezer, no matter what Albertans do.
Glenda Bartosh is an award-winning freelance writer who sees the climate changing all around her.
“I’ve been a regular at the pancake breakfast at the Boisdale fire hall for about five years,” said MacKenzie, a science teacher at Memorial High School in Sydney Mines. “They always get good crowds, and last year I noticed a lot of people outside the hall waiting to get in. That’s when the idea of an active display hit me, it would give these people something to do.”
MacKenzie’s maple products will be featured at a pancake breakfast Saturday from 9 a.m. to noon at the Boisdale fire hall hosted by the Ways and Means Committee.
MacKenzie said what started out as a building project for the carpentry shop at Memorial, quickly became a project for several other shops as well, including welding and electrical.
“It was great learning experience for the students,” he said. “Along with the building, which fits on a flatbed, we built a miniature version of an evaporator, which is the main piece of equipment in the production of maple syrup. The evaporator that does the same as the one in the main sugar shack, but is a lot smaller.”
MacKenzie and his team of family and volunteers will have the sap boiling and people will be able to smell the syrup.
“We’ll be doing taffy on snow or crushed ice depending on the weather. We’ll also have maple butter for people to taste,” he said. “We are going to fill the mobile unit with material from the maple operation. We’ll have a couple of trees with tubing and buckets, people should be able to get a good idea of what’s involved in a maple syrup operation.”
He added that parents can bring their kids along to the breakfast and they can learn about how maple syrup is produced.
MacKenzie said he was luckier than some maple producers on the mainland, who lost their season due to weather.
“We did have some warm weather early on, but we wound up with good conditions and were able to salvage most of the season. We tapped the last of the sap on Friday,” he said. “ The next big task will be to remove the taps and clean and cap the lines.”
Maple syrup tops the list as one of the world’s tastiest natural products, with no preservatives or additives.
MacKenzie’s operation can produce as much as 2,000-3,000 litres of syrup in a season. About two-thirds of his product is sold to local retailers, with the rest going to large wholesalers.
The Nova Scotia maple industry includes about 36,000 acres of maple trees and 300,000 taps. About 70 commercial maple producers make more than 100,000 litres of maple syrup each year.
A heated discussion erupted in the House Agriculture Committee yesterday as it took testimony on S.93 that would change the way Vermont sugar makers classify maple syrup.
Several Vermont maple producers are angry that they were not involved in any of the plans to bring the state more in line with the International Maple Syrup Institute’s grading system, (IMSI). Letter grades – Grade A Fancy, Grade A Medium Amber, Grade A Dark Amber and Grade B — are used on containers of maple syrup made in Vermont. If the bill passes, they would be replaced by the IMSI grades of Golden, Amber, Dark and Very Dark.
“Why? My question is why,” Ed Merrow, a Vermont maple producer, said loudly and angrily to himself early on in the hearing.
Merrow, who has a 3,000-tap sugarbush in Danby, told the committee that the first he had heard talk of changing grading standards was in fall 2010, but he didn’t hear of a decision until he read the minutes of the annual meeting of theVermont Maple Sugar Makers’ Association (VMSA) in January.
“I again asked if we had a chance to vote on grade changes. We didn’t. I was told by Bill Clark [president of VMSA] that the changes had been made and that’s that,” he said.
Jacques Couture, chair the VMSA board of directors, said his organization has the support of its members.
“[We] voted to instruct the maple industry committee to begin this process in January,” Couture said. “Members voted in support of this. We didn’t go to every member to straw poll vote; I don’t think that was ever considered.”
Couture, who has 7,500 taps on his farm in Westfield, said he spends a lot of time explaining the current grading system to customers, and likes the more self-explanatory labels.
“Not that I mind describing the grades to people, [but] the fact that there’s a flavor descriptor along with a classification is a very positive thing,” he said. “Would you ever go in a store and buy Grade B meat? So why would you go in and buy Grade B syrup?”
Murrow however, isn’t against one half of the bill – a voluntary certification program to ensure health and safety standards, that will allow producers to charge a higher premium for their maple syrup.
What it seemed producers like Merrow and other opponents of the new grading system don’t like is that standardizing the grading system will detract from the Vermont brand. Customers might think that Golden Amber from Vermont is the same as Golden Amber from Quebec or New Hampshire, whereas to producers, they are distinct.
“The current Vermont grades are part of the Vermont agricultural brand,” said Ken Bushee, a maple producer in Danby and the former director of the VMSA. “They speak of higher quality expected by the public because of higher than average quality produced by Vermont.”
Vermont maple syrup is a quarter of a degree heavier in density than other varieties, Bushee noted. .
“It’s hard to be involved in a discussion if the discussion takes place before you know about it,” Bushee said. “IMSI wants this change, but it actually isn’t in the best interest of the producers of this state [to] be lowering of our high standards to meet the rest.”
However, Rep. John Bartholomew, D-Windsor, observed that that a standardized grading system is necessary as Vermont produces more maple syrup.
“We heard testimony a few years ago that Vermont had one million taps now have three million. [That’s] something can’t market all within the state. It’s hard to exist in an export market without a standardized labelling system,” he said.
Bill Clark, the president of the VMSA, also thinks the new labeling system will help producer market outside of the state.
“In this day and age, in a global economy, in a global market, there are some [producers] selling more internationally than we do. If consumers travel other places, and they have a common understanding – it’s a lot easier for them to know what they’re getting,” Clark said.
“This is something that really needs to go forward — it’s a marketing tool. It will be of advantage to producers in Vermont,” he said.
But Bushee and Merrow ship out of state and say the Vermont grading system hasn’t detracted from their sales. Bushee says his customers have come to understand the state’s current grading system.
“I’ve educated people in the state for 30 years and they know what I sell,” Bushee told the committee, adding later, “I advertise with sign besides the road in the fall. People stop and buy from me; they take my card and reorder. It’s taken me 30 years to build my business, and people finally know what medium amber is.”
Sugaring finished up weeks ago at Morse Farm in Montpelier. Now, Burr Morse and other sugar makers around Vermont are watching as a debate unfolds just down the road at the Statehouse over changing the maple grading system.
“People don’t understand fancy,” Morse said. “They say is that the grade A medium?”
There are currently four grades of maple syrup available for retail sale in Vermont. But under the proposed changes, Vermont Fancy all the way down to Grade B would be distilled into just three categories: “Golden Color, Delicate Taste,” “Amber Color, Rich Taste,” and “Dark Color/Robust Taste.” A fourth new category would be called “Very Dark Color/Strong Taste.” It would replace the current Grade C which is now only sold commercially.
The idea has been in the works for nearly a decade and was pushed by the International Maple Syrup Institute.
“Fifty years ago, Vermont had 1 million taps. It’s estimated today we have 3.3 million. There’s just so much syrup being produced, it’s not just sold within state borders. So it’s an international industry now and in order to compete in international markets, we think it’s a good idea to have a grade that’s the same, so Vermont is on a level playing field with everybody else,” said Henry Marckres of the Vermont Agency of Agriculture.
The Vermont Maple Sugar Makers Association Board supports the plan, but without any vote of the membership, the House Agriculture Committee took testimony to see how a handful of producers come down on the issue.
“Seemed like a simple bill– gotten a lot of attention. Great importance to a lot of people,” said Rep. Carolyn Partridge, D-Windham.
Ed Merrow, a sugar maker from Danby, came to speak out.
“Stupid, just stupid names. And you can’t tell me that any sugar maker has had anything to do with this,” Merrow said. “We’ve been trying for 20 years to educate them. Finally, pretty much they understand what they like. Now you put something else out there– we start all over again.”
The bill, which has already passed the Senate, would allow the secretary of agriculture to make the new rules. Maine, New Hampshire and New York are all considering similar measures. But the idea will only move forward if Vermont takes the lead.
Back at the Morse Farm Sugar Shack, Burr Morse says he is not passionate about the changes one way or the other.
“You know, as far as I’m concerned they can call Vermont syrup anything they want,” Morse said. “Because what it is is the world’s best syrup and– that’s what it is.”
With the help of Cornell scientists and farmers maple syrup is poised to make a comeback in markets. According to Mike Farrell, director of a Cornell run sugar maple research center called Uihlein Forest, Cornell research has helped double maple syrup production in the past 10 years.
High fructose corn syrup, brown rice syrup, cane sugar, stevia, aspartame, agave nectar—the list goes on. As the shelves of Whole Foods fill with more obscure sweetener products, the public has overlooked a natural sweetener growing in its own backyard: maple syrup.
With the help of Cornell scientists and farmers maple syrup is poised to make a comeback in markets. According to Mike Farrell, director of a Cornell run sugar maple research center called Uihlein Forest, Cornell research has helped double maple syrup production in the past 10 years.
In addition to research done on campus, Cornell runs two research sites: the Uihlein Forest located in the Lake Placid Region, and Arnot Forest, which is 45 minutes south of Ithaca.
Prof. Bryan Chabot, ecology and evolutionary biology, does research on how to improve sap collection technology and understand maple flavors. According to him, Cornell has made recent discoveries that have helped improved syrup yields. University researchers discovered that by limiting bacterial growth in the tap and tubing they could improve the life of the tap and increase its output, he said.
This technique requires a certain finesse to work properly because bacteria also has a beneficial function, giving the sap flavor and color. Collected in a sterile environment, the sap produces a finished product that is a colorless, tasteless syrup.
“We have an interesting situation where flavor compounds require some bacteria to develop, but we don’t want too much of this because they will consume the sugar and decrease the life of the tap hole,” he said.
Because many people often consider maple syrup a specialty product they are often times unwilling to pay extra for it when they can use its lower priced imitation counterparts for their pancakes and waffles. But according to Farrell, if more people knew the differences between pure and artificial syrups they would be more willing to use the natural syrup on their breakfasts.
“Most people don’t realize the differences between pure and artificial maple syrup,” said Farrell. Pure maple syrup is harvested from maple trees through a process called tapping. When spring weather creates a freezing and thawing effect inside the tree, the sap is naturally pressurized. The tapping process includes drilling a hole in the tree and attaching a collection device below the hole. What first comes out of the tree, is a colorless, slightly sweet sap. After collection, the sap is boiled for hours to remove the water. A gallon of the finished product requires 40 gallons of sap to reach the desired sugar content of 67 to 68 percent. After undergoing these steps the sap is transformed into a syrup that can be served on top of pancakes.
The artificial syrup bought in the store does not come out of a tree, but rather it is typically high fructose corn syrup artificially modified to resemble something like the real thing.
High fructose corn syrup is found throughout the American diet even though discoveries have linked its consumption to numerous diseases. “All the research that has come out has shown that maple syrup is one of the healthiest if not the healthiest sweetener on the market” said Farrell. According to Farrell, that difference surprises some, “and once they learned the difference they are usually [maple syrup] customers for life.”
In addition to Cornell research, other factors have helped increase North American maple syrup production. According to Farrell, a seminal event in the recent history of maple syrup occurred in 2008, when conditions in Canada lead to a supply shortage.
Canadian production dwarfs that of the U.S., Farrell said. “Quebec controls the maple market, they produce about 80 percent of the syrup.” But when drought interfered with collection in Canada and reserve supplies were exhausted, demand outpaced supply and prices of what little syrup was left rose. After the weather returned to normal, prices stayed high and began attracting new entrants to the market.
According to Chabot, who also lectures on the history of maple syrup, Northeastern Native Americans were the first to tap for maple syrup. They later introduced the techniques to colonists, this was their own source of sugar in the new world. Leading up to the revolutionary war, once trade was established and imported sugar could be obtained, its use was encouraged to boycott British taxes on imported sugar like molasses. With the assistance of researchers like Chabot and Farrell, the historic product of the Northeast is staging a comeback.
The Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers has just completed the acquisition of a factory warehouse in Laurierville, Centre-du-Québec. With around 234,000 square feet of floor space, the new warehouse will allow the packaging and storing of more than 220,000 barrels of maple syrup, thus ensuring a continuous market supply, regardless of nature’s generosity.
Inventory support is central to controlling risk with maple syrup production. Ensuring a continual supply is essential for developing markets for maple products. For this reason, the Federation acquired its first warehouse in Saint-Antoine-de-Tilly in 2008. This warehouse is already full with 15 million pounds (23,000 barrels). In 2010, an actuarial study determined that, on average, a strategic reserve of 40 million pounds would be necessary to avoid stock shortfalls due to poor harvests. Slightly more than 36 million pounds of maple syrup are currently stored in three different locations in Quebec. Last year, the Federation had to rent additional storage space to cater for the harvest surplus. The new Laurierville warehouse will now provide the required space to fulfil the Global Strategic Maple Syrup Reserve.
The Federation is preparing the new warehouse for receiving and grading producers’ syrup from April. Pasteurization and barrel cleaning equipment will be installed without delay. The new Laurierville factory warehouse will be equipped with state-of-the-art technology which will help with efficient syrup pasteurization, minimizing stock loss and optimizing barrel handling. The same rigorous quality controls and perfect traceability from maple grove to buyer will be in place as normal.
The Global Strategic Maple Syrup Reserve: Avoiding price fluctuations and meeting demand.
In 2008, after four years of poor harvests, demand was growing and syrup stocks were drying up. Prices soared as the laws of supply and demand dictate. “In the long term, supply instability has a negative effect on everyone and harms development and innovation. Maple producers are eager to invest and show support for the Global Strategic Maple Syrup Reserve. It’s the best strategy for managing risk in our industry, supporting its long-term development and reducing our dependence on governmental programs,” says Mr. Serge Beaulieu, President of the Federation.
The Strategic Maple Syrup Reserve is currently supported entirely by Quebec maple producers. The strategy will ensure that markets receive a continuous supply of syrup, regardless of harvest. Furthermore, it will help to prevent discounted sales and price fluctuations. It provides stability and a secure supply while assuring optimal storage conditions. With planning around market requirements, maple producers relieve some of the pressure on agricultural risk management programs run by the State.
Warm temperatures over the last few weeks have meant that some of the southern-based maple producers (including many American producers) have had to stop production for the season, although many of the larger maple groves are still in production in the colder parts of Quebec. At this point it is still too early to measure this year’s harvest. Nevertheless, the Global Strategic Reserve will ensure that maple syrup will not be in short supply this year.
About the FPAQ
The Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers was founded in 1966 with the mission of protecting and developing the economic, social and moral interests of its 7,400 member producers in Quebec. It represents men and women who work together and favour the collective marketing of their product. The quality of their work has made Quebec the producer of close to 80% of today’s global maple syrup production.