Will Dip in Vt. Maple Output Mean Higher Prices? | NECN

Will Dip in Vt. Maple Output Mean Higher Prices?

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Weather took a toll on the state's producers this spring (Published Thursday, Jan. 16, 2014)

    (NECN: Jack Thurston, Burlington, Vt.) - At Handy's Lunch in Burlington, Vt., Earl Handy couldn't imagine serving anything with his pancakes other than pure Vermont maple syrup; none of those artificial table syrups for him.

    "It should be a Vermont law that if you own a breakfast joint, you can only serve real maple syrup," he said.

    Several of Handy's customers told New England Cable News they appreciate knowing they're getting the state's most famous flavor.

    "It's an experience," said pancake customer James Merriam of Montpelier, Vt.

    Some buyers are now watching the maple industry for possible price increases, wondering if a disappointing season for sugar makers will translate into higher costs for customers. Vermont syrup already retails for an average of $46 a gallon, according to the Vt. Agriculture Agency.

    "Some places sell it for more, some for less," said Vt. Agriculture Agency maple specialist Henry Marckres. "I wouldn't think [you'd see] more than a 5 or 10 percent increase [on top of current prices], and 10 would be more than I anticipate."

    During March, the key maple production month, temperatures were too warm for the trees to produce as much sap as sugar makers would have liked to see. The industry relies on freezing nights and sunny days above the freezing mark to kick-start heavy sap flows.

    Although that natural pumping action was not as pronounced because of the warmer-than-usual temperatures, sugar makers were still able to gather sap. Early tree tapping, and new tap installations across the state may have helped soften the blow from the weather, Marckres said.

    Marckres noted that a price climb would likely only come if finished syrup supplies dwindle later this year. They could: foreign consumers have been buying more and more of this uniquely North American product.

    A surplus of maple syrup from 2011 may help stabilize prices. That was a record year for production. Vermont producers made 1.14-million gallons of finished syrup in 2011, Marckres said. He added that a typical season would yield about 800,000 gallons.

    While final numbers for Vermont's output in 2012 will not be available for several weeks, Marckres predicted the tally will be approximately two-thirds of the typical 800,000-gallon output.

    "We want [customers] to be able to afford it and put in on their table," said maple producer Cecile Branon.

    Branon's family is one of Vermont's top producers. She also co-chairs the popular Maple Festival in St. Albans. This weekend is the event's 46th year, featuring exhibits, carnival rides, a road race, parade, antique show, and more.

    Branon said the warm spring weather may have impacted the quantity of syrup produced, but not the quality. She said the 2012 crop has been "excellent." Branon expects if slight increases do come, buyers would remain loyal.

    "They want their families to eat well," Branon said.

    Canada remains the world's top maple producer, with Vermont leading the United States in output. Price fluctuations can depend on the total amount of syrup produced in Canada, Marckres said.

    Back at Handy's, the owner told NECN he hopes his maple supplier will keep prices level. If there are changes, Handy said he will adapt.

    "Everything goes up," he explained. "Bacon goes up, eggs go up, butter goes up. It's just part of doing business. You have to find other ways to make it work for you."

    Handy said he refuses to cut corners when it comes to Vermont's signature product.

    "It's worth it," he beamed, pouring a serving of maple syrup and placing it on top of a short stack of pancakes.