Maple syrup in short supply

12/03/08 7:34AM By Nina Keck
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(Host)  Two years ago a sugarmaker in Vermont might sell his syrup wholesale for about two dollars a pound.

But demand for syrup has skyrocketed because it's being used in so many more products, including breakfast cereal.

As the popularity of maple rises ... there is a shortage.

VPR's Nina Keck explains.

(Keck)   When you boil it all down - no pun intended - the current price hike for maple syrup is all about supply and demand.

(Gaudette) ``This is the first time in many years that the market has exceeded supply."  

(Keck)  Gary Gaudette is President of the Leader Evaporator Company, which makes equipment for the maple industry.

(Gaudette) ``The marketers of maple syrup have done such a good job in increasing the world market of our product, there just was not enough maple syrup to go around."

(Keck)   Gaudette says global demand for syrup has been increasing by about 10 percent a year.   Rick Marsh, president of the Vermont Maple Sugar Makers Association, says worldwide consumption topped 120 million pounds last year.  The stereotype that maple syrup's just for pancakes is changing, he says, as the industry develops new markets and products.  

(Marsh) ``Maple sugar is a fairly new product, but that has really hit the airwaves - which is a dry product. The lifespan of it is much longer than the liquid form.   And that's what's being used on a lot of these cereals and many, many different foods now."

(Keck)   But like any agricultural crop, maple syrup production hinges on the weather.    Too much snow and a late spring this year meant poor crops in both northern Vermont and Quebec.  Quebec produces between 75 and 80 percent of the world's maple syrup, and for the last three years their production has been below average.   Gary Gaudette says with less syrup available, buyers have had to compete, driving up the price.

(Gaudette)``The whole maple industry is in kind of a bad situation right now because there is market out there that we're not supplying because we don't have the product to supply the market."

(Keck)   Rick Marsh says that's a problem.   If a company like Kellogg's can't buy enough maple sugar or syrup, he says they'll simply reformulate their recipes and use something else.   So he says a good crop in 2009 will be critical.   Marsh says the fact that syrup prices are high is encouraging many Vermont farmers to boost their operations and newcomers to give sugaring a try.   

At the Baird Farm in Chittenden, they've been making maple syrup for three generations.   Bob Baird says it's exciting to see bulk prices jump.    But he says he's worked hard to keep retail prices reasonable since many of his customers are friends and neighbors.   

(Baird) ``You know, one thing I've told our customers, and we don't get many people who feel that our prices are unreasonable.   But when they do, I tell them about our veterinarian, who has come to our farm for a long time.  And he says there's two things I never complain - and he's a real Vermonter - I never complain about the prices of, and that's firewood and maple syrup because I know how much work it takes to make both of those things."

(Keck)   Baird says that he expects the bulk price of syrup to drop somewhat in the next several months, but thinks retail prices will hold steady.  Customers can't seem to get enough, he says with a smile.   His holiday Internet sales for November were up 50 percent over last year.   

For VPR News, I'm Nina Keck in Chittenden.

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