Maple Syrup

Maple syrup is an exotic and trendy natural sweetener produced by sugar farmers in Eastern Canada and North Eastern USA. From their sugar bush estates in spring thaw, the farmers harvest sap from their sugar woods (generally Acer saccharum – the leaf on the flag). The sap is piped to the sugar shack to have 98% of its volume boiled away – voilà maple syrup!

The maple industry is small scale. Québec is the dominant player with 13,500 farmers sharing a quota of 43 million taps. With a mature tree coping with two taps, the average farmer’s sugar bush holding is about 1,600 trees. Sales yield to the Federation cartel averages $CDN 36,000, augmented by revenues from sugaring-off feasts and at-shack / farmers’ market sales.

Despite its overwhelming sucrose content and high cost, maple syrup‘s reputation as a healthier, tastier, more mineralized natural sweetener has taken hold in upscale markets – e.g. USA, Germany, Japan, United Kingdom and Australia.  The overall supply is growing by about 3% p.a.  but demand can be significantly expanded, as recent UK marketing investment has shown.

And now to the crunch economics and politics, which have relevance for comparable exotic foods and nutraceuticals grown in New Zealand, such as manuka honey, deer velvet, crayfish, abalone, green-lipped mussels, hop cultivars, etc.

Québec’s global market share was 71% in 2016, down from 82% in 2003, the extra demand being met by Québec’s American competitors exploiting a supply shortfall resulting from Québec’s fixed quota. The Québec Maple Sugar Federation was founded as a co-operative and statutorily empowered by the Québec Government in 2002 as a response to price volatility, erratic export supply and failing farmers. Its main tools are to enforce tap and production quotas, to direct sales solely through its agency, and to set prices and levies. Its cartel powers are more draconian than OPEC’s! The Federation levies fines (the largest I found was 656,000 Loonies!), confiscates harvests, and sues rebel members, their violation being black market selling. Politically, having long memories of hardship most members still remain loyal to the Federation, but the Québec Government now believes that the rigidity of the quota system is costing the Province significant revenues and market share. The Federation has finally bent to pressure from Government and discontented members and lifted quotas 12% plus a minimal price increase. Its marketing effectiveness will be tested in placing the extra volume.

To New Zealand eyes, these arrangements are akin to our 1970s producer boards, but with greater powers of coercion. None of kiwifruit, kai moana, stone fruit, flowers, vegetables, grains or honey has been granted statutory authority to this extent. In its proximity to Government and in its vast collective and enforceable control, surely the only comparable industry is Dairy.

A bientot,