New syrup grades are sweet for industry
Albert J. Marro / Staff File Photo
Bobbie Brown prices maple syrup packaged at K&S Ruane Maple Sugar Farm in Tinmouth in March 2012. The Legislature is considering a proposal to align Vermontís syrup grading system with the international standard.
The Vermont Maple Sugar Makers Association and the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food, and Markets are working together to advance an initiative that will change the way we grade our maple syrup in Vermont.
It is an initiative sought by industry and has been discussed widely in the maple community, including three hearings in 2012 attended by more than 200 sugar makers, the vast majority of whom expressed support for the changes being considered.
Our state currently has its own system for grading syrup. We are proposing that Vermont aligns with the international standard for grading syrup, created by the International Maple Syrup Institute (IMSI). This change is necessary to ensure our maple industry continues to grow and prosper. We will advance rule-making to initiate this change if and when the Legislature passes a resolution in support of this effort.
We have come to this decision after much deliberation. Maple syrup is an intrinsic part of our stateís identity and is big business for the state. Still, the change is necessary because when it comes to the export market, our current grading system doesnít translate.
The lack of synchronization with the larger maple market restricts our ability to sell our syrup outside the state. This could have grave consequences for the future of all Vermont sugar makers, regardless of the size of their operation.
The export market is critical to Vermontís maple industry. Our state produces more syrup than it can consume ó on an average, 1.75 gallons per resident. We are the biggest syrup state in the nation and account for approximately 40 percent of the countryís maple syrup production.
The Vermont maple industry continues to grow. In the past 10 years, the number of sugar makers in our state has increased from roughly 2,000 to 3,000 producers, and the retail price of syrup has gone from $35 to as much as $55 per gallon.
New technology, like reverse osmosis and vacuum pumps, has allowed sugar makers to produce more syrup from the same number of taps. Despite challenging times for the national economy, Vermontís sugar makers are thriving ó increasing their operations, producing more syrup, and tapping more trees.
This is all good news for the state. The growing maple industry helps to create jobs, enhances the Vermont brand, and helps protect our working landscape.
But all that would change if we were no longer able to export our syrup.
This is exactly why this change is so important for Vermont maple sugar makers.
The proposed grades are part of an effort led by the International Maple Syrup Institute with input from all syrup-producing states and provinces ó including Vermont. These grades were created in a collaborative process and are brand new. Today, we have a complex system of grades that vary from state-to-state and internationally. Vermont Grade B syrup is called Extra Dark for Cooking in New York, and in Canada that same syrup is called Number 2 Amber. Standardizing these grades will allow more Vermont syrup to be sold outside of Vermont.
Itís not just the export market that struggles with our current system; tourists often misunderstand, too. Because the proposed grades include color and flavor descriptors, a customer can readily know what is inside any bottle of syrup.
It is our hope that the Legislature will support the change, and the Agency of Agriculture can begin the rule-making process. During rule-making, there is an opportunity for the public to provide additional comment.
If the new standards are adopted, the old system will be phased out over a period of three years. So change wonít happen overnight. Furthermore, the existing grades can be used as marketing descriptors in the future, if individual sugar makers would like to use them in this way.
In the end, these new grades wonít alter what matters most. No matter what we call it, pure Vermont maple syrup will still be the best syrup in the world.
Chuck Ross is secretary of the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets.