A member of President Donald Trump’s cabinet joined Vermont’s governor and state agriculture officials Friday to celebrate the kick-off to the sweetest time of the year in Vermont: maple season.
U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue learned how critical maple is to both Vermont’s bottom line and identity.
Perdue tapped his first-ever tree, using an old-fashioned sap collection bucket.
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Modern methods involve pipelines and technology to maximize sap yields, making little Vermont responsible for roughly 50 percent of all U.S. maple syrup output.
“That’s pretty good,” Perdue observed. “A smaller state like Vermont, and half the U.S. production? That’s a big deal.”
Maple season tends to last four to six weeks, depending on the weather.
According to the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, in 2018, Vermont producers made more than 1.9-million gallons of the all-natural sweet product, worth more than $53-million.
The Vermont maple industry creates and supports some 4,000 jobs, according to the USDA.
Maple producers such as Georgia Mountain Maples are now hoping for a gradual arrival to spring. Temperatures below freezing at night and around 40 during the day are considered ideal for a good maple crop.
“Maple sugaring–once it gets into your blood, it’s there; it’s a tradition,” said Janet Harrison of Georgia Mountain Maples. “We’re just so happy we live in a state where we have the opportunity to do this.”
Also at the maple event, Perdue was greeted by several dairy farmers who pleaded with him for policies to help struggling milk producers.
Because of the high costs of running dairy farms, compared to the low prices milk processors are paying farmers right now, many have been forced out of business nationwide—especially small operations.
“The dairy farmers don’t have any money to operate with, the grain farmers don’t have any money to operate with—those are the economic engines for the rural community across this country,” Sheldon dairy farmer Bill Rowell said in an interview with necn about the concerns. “So what happens? Is everybody going to move to the city? Who’s going to produce our food?”
“It’s been a tough go out there,” Perdue acknowledged. “But if they can just hang on, I think until the summer—literally we don’t say this very often in the federal government–help’s on the way.”
Perdue predicted relief should come through market protection provisions in the federal farm bill, and through new trade agreements.
However, the U.S. agriculture secretary dismissed suggestions from some of the Vermont dairy farmers to consider a supply management system like one in place in Canada. It keeps farm incomes steady, though costs consumers more.
Perdue said he understands why a group experiencing financial duress would look for all options, but added that, to him, a system like Canada’s would be unneeded, given the “spirit of entrepreneurship and economic liberty” in the United States.
Perdue praised the Vermont maple producers and the nation’s farmers for their hard work and contributions to America’s rural economy—and for what he said are critical roles in ensuring a safe food supply for the nation.