Maple syrup a largely untapped resource

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It will likely be another month before the sap is running, but that didn’t stop a ceremony in honour of the first agricultural crop of the year.

“It’s the first product that comes from Ontario farms. Traditionally farm families would stock up their pantry with sugars and they were getting at that immediately because they had nothing else to do but tend the livestock,” said Nick Bereznick, president of the Grey-Bruce chapter of the Ontario Maple Syrup Producers Association.

He told a handful of producers at Saturday’s event that the Ontario maple crop is worth $25 million in product alone and represents 5% of Canada’s maple syrup production.

Quebec produces 90% of the maple syrup in Canada. According to Statistics Canada in 2011, Canadian maple syrup production was valued at $349.5 million.

Saturday’s event held at the farm of Darryl and Marylou Klein brought out Huron-Bruce MPP Lisa Thompson and Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound MPP Bill Walker, along with West Grey Mayor Kevin Eccles and South Bruce Mayor Bill Goetz.

Bereznick noted that there’s a lot of undeveloped maple syrup potential in Ontario, which has 75 million untapped trees.

“In Quebec you drive the back roads and see a cabane a sucre (sugar bush) every mile and a half on both sides of the road . . . maybe Ontario farmers don’t see the potential. More than ever the potential is here because the public is demanding a natural food product and maple and honey fit that category more than ever before,” Bereznick said.

Maple syrup is finding its way into the spirits industry with maple-flavoured vodka and maple-flavoured rye whisky, along with a long list of maple-flavoured liqueurs that have come onto the market in recent years.0

On a yield-per-acre basis Bereznick ranks maple syrup the top cash crop with prices in recent years among the highest ever. That is attracting new producers.

Sometimes maple syrup production begins as a hobby and grows into business that supplements on-farm income.

The Kleins have switched from dairy farming to raising beef cattle, cash cropping and maple syrup production. Last year they opened a maple syrup supply store on their farm south of Neustadt.

“I find there’s a lot more interest in the hobby producers. It seems that the families are getting together on the weekends, getting back to nature,” said Darryl Klein, who recalled the family’s humble efforts at making maple syrup over the open fire.

“We started with 50 taps and a flat pan and we’ve progressed up to 925 taps with a four (foot) by twelve (foot) evaporator and I can see a lot of these people doing that as they sell their syrup to family and friends then they have more trees to tap and expand and they keep growing.”

During Saturday’s event Bereznick presented high school teacher Bryan Dubeau with a $500 cheque on behalf of the Ontario Maple Syrup Producers Association.

Dubeau is one of the instructors in Chesley District High School’s agricultural high skills major program.

The money will go toward a course in maple syrup making offered this year for the first time on a small wood lot belonging to the school.

“We were looking for something to fill the spring and we realized maple syrup was always an agricultural product. It has great potential for us to introduce maple syrup making into the agricultural program,” Dubeau said.

The maple industry also supports tourism through sugar bush trips like the Kemble Maple Syrup Tour of a handful of maple operations sponsored by local United Churches on Saturday April 6. Details are available by calling Bob Gray at 519-371-9128.




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