Grant to help assess maple syrup industry expansion
Staff Writer, @mbarkerCDT
Posted Dec. 26, 2013 at 12:01 AM
The Commercial Maple Syrup Producers of Michigan, a newly formed organization of the state’s larger maple syrup operations, recently received a $10,000 Strategic Growth Initiative, SIG, Grant as part of the state’s $2.25 million grant program aimed at growing Michigan’s food and agriculture industry. Craig Waldron, owner of Far Hills Maple Syrup, LLC, in Burt Lake — the largest commercial maple syrup operation in Michigan — is chairman of the Commercial Maple Syrup Producers of Michigan association. Waldron said the objective of the grant is to complete a feasibility and market assessment on the potential impact the maple syrup industry could have on the state’s economy by identifying the opportunities, challenges and strategies to move forward. He said the group’s goals are to increase the tap counts in Michigan and to increase public awareness of the significant potential the maple syrup industry holds. In addition, the producers association will work to increase consumption of Michigan maple syrup; create Michigan maple syrup brand recognition; collaborate with government agencies and universities and increase the market value of syrup producers’ sugar bush investments. Waldron said room for growth in the state’s maple syrup industry is staggering. He said statistics indicate that the United States imports four times more Canadian maple syrup than it produces here. Quebec is the world’s leader, capturing approximately 88 percent of the world market. Waldron said Michigan has more potential maple syrup taps than Quebec and more than any other state in the nation including Pennsylvania, New York and Vermont — all industry leaders in the United States. “When people think of Vermont, they think of maple syrup. Vermont has pushed this for years, and it has worked. That ‘s just smart marketing,” said Waldron. “We want to create a brand recognition to rival Vermont.” The Commercial Maple Syrup Producers of Michigan estimates Michigan utilizes less than .2 percent of its potential Maple taps. Waldron said larger producers would be defined as those with 3,000 or more trees tapped. He said because of the significant investment required to tap the trees and produce syrup, jobs can not be exported once the syrup facility is functioning. “The investment is staggering, so it is going to be there for a while,” said Waldron. With 28,000 trees tapped at Far Hills Maple Syrup, Waldron knows firsthand the requirements of ramping-up a syrup production facility. The Burt Lake-based business has been around since 1975, with a big investment in growth since early in 2000. The company has 560 acres and trees are tapped on about 240 acres. The trees are predominantly Sugar Maples. “Last year we made 10,400 gallons of syrup. Last year was an average year,” he said. He said when producers get between 20,000 and 30,000 taps, the production becomes more efficient. He said the Commercial Maple Syrup Producers of Michigan would like to help smaller operations who want to take the next step to become bigger producers. Another group, the Michigan Maple Syrup Association, the MMS, has been in existence for some 50 years. Waldron said the vast majority of its members are small operations, many of which tap fewer trees and produce at their current level. “We felt there are bigger operations that have different ideas and priorities, so we formed this group. … Some fear that too many taps will hurt the price. The growth is happening anyway. And we don’t set the price; Canada and the East Coast does,” said Waldron. He added there are more and more landowners expressing an interest in producing maple syrup. Many have retired early and want to do something with their investment of land, and they see the potential. “There is more interest than ever in producing Maple syrup in the state,” said Waldron. Eventually, Waldron said if Michigan can become a major player by meeting just some of its production capabilities, the effect on the state’s economy would be significant. “There are so many things that could be impacted; agri-tourism; construction, spinoff products, packaging, marketing, distribution. …” said Waldron.