Companies & Industries

Quebec’s maple syrup wars are boiling over again

As demand—and prices—rise, Quebec’s maple syrup farmers are railing against the provincial body responsible for capping supply

Maple syrup producers protesting outside the Quebec legislature on February 16, 2016

Maple syrup producers protesting outside the Quebec legislature on February 16, 2016. (Jacque Boissinot/CP)

An old problem plaguing Quebec’s maple syrup producers is heating up again, and the results are anything but sweet.

Today, 80% of the world’s maple syrup comes from Canada, and 90% of that comes from Quebec. Given the recent trend in which every food needs to be maple-flavoured, you might assume Quebec producers are ecstatic. But in reality, they are the ones who are benefiting the least from the surge in demand, compared to producers in other parts of Canada and the U.S.

The reason is because maple farmers’ output is capped by the Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers, a marketing board that enforces quotas on maple syrup production. The federation introduced its system in the early 2000s to limit excess production, with the goal of smoothing out annual variations in the syrup harvest, thus stabilizing the price for the province’s 13,500 sap farmers. Over the years, however, producers say the quotas have become too restrictive for them to profit from rising demand.

Early this month, a report commissioned by Quebec Agriculture Minister Pierre Paradis, who sought a review of how the federation regulates supply, found that Quebec’s share of global supply has dropped by 10% in a decade—even as demand and output rose. “If nothing changes, another 10% will be lost by 2025,” Paradis said February 11 in a statement.

“We can stay with our quota system all we want, but all we’re doing is hurting ourselves,”Jim Dempsey, a Quebec producer, told Bloomberg. The federation, however, is adamant on keeping the quota, and believes stockpiling excess maple syrup is a strategic move to keep up with future demands (the federation currently stores 60 million pounds of maple syrup). “World demand is now increasing,” Caroline Cyr, a federation spokeswoman told Bloomberg reporters. “We need to be able to keep our markets, to supply them. So that’s why we stockpile.”

Numerous Quebec producers are opposing the federation’s rigid rules around production, and have turned to the black market to sell their syrup. While the Federation claims the black market makes up no more than 8% of the maple syrup industry, producers Global News spoke with estimate over 90% of producers sell outside their quota as of 2014. The quota has even driven theft on a massive scale, such as a 2012 incident involving millions of dollars worth of contraband syrup stolen from the federation’s stockpile—as covered in Canadian Business by writer Tim Shufelt in his feature The Great Canadian Maple Syrup Heist. (A story that landed Tim on The Daily Show).