Maine’s maple syrup industry

U.S. Sen. Angus King (I-Maine), Special to The County
10 years ago


    Every spring, as daytime temperatures begin to rise, but the nights remain cold and crisp, many Mainers head to the woods to tap our maple trees and collect their precious sap.

    Maine has a diverse group of maple syrup producers ranging from large-scale operations in Somerset County, to mid-sized businesses and individual producers who tap trees as a means to supplement their income, and families who just enjoy the satisfaction of making their own syrup! In recent years, this previously niche market has witnessed tremendous growth and become an important component of our agricultural industry in the Northeast.

    According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, last year the United States produced more than 3.2 million gallons of maple syrup, an increase of 70 percent from the previous year, which in turn generated millions of dollars in revenues for producers across the country including many in Maine. With this increased capacity for production, we need to think strategically about how to position American producers as compared to their international competitors.

    North America is the only place in the world where maple sap can be tapped for syrup production, and currently Canada supplies 80 percent of the entire market. As the global demand for syrup rises, and new markets like those in Japan and China open up, we want to make sure our American producers are properly equipped to compete. Also helping to level the playing field, the International Maple Syrup Institute (IMSI) has recently developed a new uniform grading system that will ensure syrup is classified along to the same system regardless of where it was produced.
    In addition to its economic footprint, the maple syrup industry plays a key role in our conservation efforts. Maple trees are an important conservation crop that help maintain the health of our forests and protect the quality of our water. That is why I was pleased that the 2013 Farm Bill established the Acer Access and Development Program to support the continued growth of this industry.

    Over the last decade, U.S. syrup production has nearly doubled due to innovative tapping and sanitation practices. Furthermore, some of these new technologies are helping American producers gain a larger stake in the international syrup market. The new Acer program will provide an opportunity for further investment and research so we can learn how to maintain this trend of increased production, strengthen conservation, and help drive efficiency in maple sugaring.

    Finally, we need to think about how we market Maine maple syrup and build our state’s brand image. I heard from Mary Anne Kinney, of Kinney Maple Productions, that when folks visit her sugar house in Knox, they are surprised to learn that maple syrup is even produced in Maine. That is a real problem. Maine is the third largest syrup producing state in the country; Somerset County is the largest producing county in the country — and few people are aware of how important it is to our economy. Our goal should be that maple syrup is as synonymous with Maine as lobsters, wild blueberries, and potatoes.

    For generations, agriculture has served as a foundation of our state economy. As new markets emerge and new technologies improve growing and harvesting practices, we need to make sure our farmers have access to the necessary tools for success in the 21st century. The resources for research and investment contained in the 2013 Farm Bill mark a significant step forward for our maple producers. I look forward to working with my colleagues in the Senate and with folks back home to maintain this positive momentum.