Surging syrup prices bring boom time for maple

Mon Apr 6, 2009 3:07am EDT
 
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By Scott Malone

CABOT, Vermont (Reuters) - This season's $60 a gallon price tag on maple syrup makes for one expensive pancake breakfast, but it's a windfall for those who coax it out of trees.

A surge in the price of maple syrup has brought new opportunity to thousands of small, mostly family-run businesses in the United States and Canada that produce the sweet, aromatic treat.

For the past decade, rising energy prices had put a squeeze on syrup makers, who spend frigid late-winter evenings in steamy huts boiling the watery maple sap to make the thick, amber syrup that sweetens breakfasts around the world. Sugarers burn oil or wood to boil the sap and the prices of both fuels have risen sharply over the past few years.

That pressure on profit margins has eased following a doubling in the price paid by big buyers to about $44 a gallon ($11 a liter) in just two years. The spike in prices reflects several bad seasons in the Canadian province of Quebec, the world's largest producer of maple syrup.

The cold winters sharply reduced production while demand has stayed relatively constant.

"It actually feels like we're maybe, finally getting paid what it's really worth," said Marcia Maynard, who along with her husband, Ken Denton, runs Cabot Hills Maple in Vermont. "It feels like we're starting to come out ahead."

Maynard and Denton started making syrup in 2002 on their 100-acre (40 hectare) plot in Cabot, population 1,213, just 60 miles south of the Canadian border.

"We've had a relatively recent investment in equipment and so we're still working on paying that off," said Maynard, who makes syrup in a 14-foot (4 meter) long trough called an evaporator, which boils the sap to remove water.   Continued...

 
<p>Marcia Maynard is enveloped by steam from 219-degree boiling sap as she checks the color and density of a batch of soon-to-be maple syrup at Cabot Hills Maple in Cabot, Vermont April 1, 2009. This season's $60 a gallon pricetag on maple syrup makes for one expensive pancake breakfast, but it's a windfall for those who coax it out of trees. REUTERS/Herb Swanson</p>