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Laurierville (Canada) (AFP) – Pancake lovers, fear not. Strong demand for maple syrup after a poor Canadian harvest has created problems on the supply side, but the province of Quebec is exploiting its strategic reserves to keep the world inundated with sweet and sticky substances.

Experts warn that the shortages could be made even worse by climate change, which is already blamed for the shorter and warmer sugar season last spring.

To avoid shortages, the Quebec Maple Syrup Producers indicated that they had released more than half of their syrup inventory.

“It’s normal, that’s what we want: reserves must be the buffer between temperature, demand and production,” explained the president of the organization, Serge Beaulieu.

Quebec produces nearly three-quarters of the world’s supply, and the organization – sometimes called OPEC maple syrup – represents more than 11,000 producers.

The group’s immense reserves in the town of Laurierville, near Quebec, are emblematic of Canada’s extremely lucrative maple industry.

Housed in a warehouse the size of five football fields, tens of thousands of barrels, each containing 45 gallons (205 liters), are stacked row after row, up to the ceiling.

Tubes cross a stream at Belfontaine Holstein maple farm in Saint-Marc-sur-Richelieu, Quebec Andrej Ivanov AFP

In Canada, maple syrup is serious business. Often referred to as “Quebec gold” in the region, it has sometimes been treated more like the gold itself.

During the “Great Canadian Maple Syrup Heist” ten years ago, thieves stole C $ 18.7 million worth of maple syrup from the facility.

Right now, however, the only siphoning is to alleviate market shortages: at the start of the year some 105 million pounds were stored here. The stock has since been reduced to just 37 million pounds.

The hot woes of spring

The sap harvest usually begins in March, when temperatures are above zero during the day but below zero degrees Celsius (32 degrees Fahrenheit) at night.

Harvesters traditionally hammered arrows into tree trunks and let the sap drip into buckets, but now they collect it from multiple trees at once through a system of tubes, to refine it.

Maryse Nault demonstrates how she tapping maple trees at Belfontaine Holstein Farm Saint-Marc-sur-Richelieu, Quebec on December 9, 2021
Maryse Nault demonstrates how she tapping maple trees at Belfontaine Holstein Farm Saint-Marc-sur-Richelieu, Quebec on December 9, 2021 Andrej Ivanov AFP

Producer Laurie Larouche, 23, lamented to AFP that “last spring was cut short because it was hotter than usual so instead of having a good month of harvest we may have had only two weeks plus a few days here and there “.

“We produced 50 percent less syrup,” said Maryse Nault, as she trudged through the snow to inspect the trees on her farm in Saint-Marc-sur-Richelieu, 50 kilometers (31 miles) away (31 miles) east of Montreal.

The province’s total yield fell to 133 million pounds of maple syrup, about 20 to 40 pounds less than in four of the previous five years, according to producer cartel data, and well below of the 175 million books sold in 2020.

An employee walks past pasteurized maple syrup at the Quebec Maple Syrup Producers storage facility in Laurierville, December 9, 2021
An employee walks past pasteurized maple syrup at the Quebec Maple Syrup Producers storage facility in Laurierville, December 9, 2021 Andrej Ivanov AFP

Researchers from the Quebec Ministry of Forests have concluded that the yield per maple tree could drop as much as 15 percent by 2050, mainly due to increasingly warm weather in April.

Meanwhile, sales have doubled over the past decade, including a 20% jump in the first six months of 2021 alone from the same period the year before.

Due to this growing demand, which has occurred both domestically and in key export markets such as the United States, Germany and Japan, producers have been licensed by the Provincial Maple Syrup Federation. to harvest an additional seven million trees over the next three years, for a total of 57 million.

The pandemic is partly responsible for the recent surge in demand, Beaulieu said.

“Due to the Covid restrictions, consumers have spent a lot more time at home, trying new food products,” he explained.

And, he added, syrup is increasingly replacing white sugar because it “is better for you than refined sugar.”

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