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Sticky spot: Canada’s maple syrup production hits 5-year low, reserves sink

It’s a sticky situation for Canada’s maple syrup producers.

Reserves of the popular pancake topper are dwindling and new numbers from Statistics Canada show maple syrup production has hit a five-year low.

According to the government, production dropped from a record high of 79 million litres in 2022 to just over 47 million litres this year.

And in Quebec, the country’s largest strategic reserve of syrup has dwindled to just 6.9 million pounds — a mere fraction of the 133 million pounds it is built to hold.

The slow supply of syrup isn’t causing producers to panic quite yet, but a perfect storm of several unseasonably warm winters combined with an ongoing spike in demand that hasn’t let up since the start of the pandemic means that if price-stabling reserves continue to dwindle, shoppers might be in for a bout of sticker shock at the grocery store.

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Quebec is trying to avoid such a situation, branching out with a campaign to get an additional seven million taps distributed across the province, to be installed by April 2026, and encouraging people to apply for production on both private and public forestlands.


Click to play video: 'Canada’s maple syrup producers looking for rebound after weather hurts 2023 production'


Canada’s maple syrup producers looking for rebound after weather hurts 2023 production


All tapped out


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This isn’t the first time in recent memory that Quebec has reported being all tapped out.

In 2021, the organization governing Quebec’s maple syrup producers announced it would release about 50 million pounds of its reserve after it found that demand for syrup was outstripping supply.

As people were kept home due to COVID-19 restrictions, their reliance on having maple syrup at home ramped up and Canadian maple syrup exports rose 20 per cent in 2020.

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The 2021 sugaring season, when sap is extracted from sugar maple trees, was cut short by a warm winter, too, leading to a diminished supply.

Fortunately, a cold winter that year allowed record-breaking yields in the 2022 sugaring season, but it was only enough to satisfy the increased demand for the sticky stuff and not enough to replenish the reserve.

And, now, mild winters over the past two years have put the producers on alert once again. While a warm winter doesn’t necessarily mean a bad year for syrup supply, if the weather stays warm for too long during sugaring season the sap turns its energy toward helping the maples bud, impacting the flavour of the sap and putting an end to sugaring season.

Drama in the syrup world

While producers aren’t yet hitting the syrup supply alarm, it’s worth noting that the world depends largely on Quebec for supplying it with sugary stuff — the province produces nearly three-quarters of the global maple syrup supply and exports the product to more than 60 countries.

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The reserve, operated by the Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers, was created in 2000, banking on the long shelf life of pasteurized syrup, which can sit for years without spoiling.

Disaster and drama hit the reserve in 2012, when it was discovered that nearly 10,000 barrels of syrup had been drained in the now-notorious “Great Canadian Maple Syrup Heist,” to the tune of a whopping $18.7 million in pilfered syrup.

The thieves, over the course of months, used trucks to transport barrels of syrup to a remote sugar shack, siphoning off the syrup and refilling them with water before returning them to the reserve. As time went on, the thieves became more brazen, returning empty barrels into the reserve without refilling them.

The operation came crashing down, quite literally, when an inspector started climbing barrels in one of the reserve’s warehouses and almost fell due to the empty barrels.

Several perpetrators of the sophisticated illegal operation, including ringleader Richard Vallières, were found guilty in the theft, with Vallières telling the court during his trial that he sold the stolen syrup for $10 million and made a $1-million profit.

Large-scale theft of the popular export struck again a few years later, when thieves broke into a Montreal shipping yard in 2016 and made off with roughly $150,000 worth of maple syrup destined for the Japanese market.

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