Evaluating the Growth Potential of the Maple Syrup Industry in the Northern Forest
- Chabot, Brian
Maple sugar production is economically and culturally important for Northern Forest residents. Using forest inventory data and surveys of landowners, we documented a significant potential to expand this industry. With less than 1% of the available trees tapped for syrup production in the U.S., the maple resource is not a limiting factor to increasing production. USFS FIA data reveal an abundant maple resource throughout the Northern Forest region that could be tapped to expand syrup production. The density of maples within a stand is a much greater limiting factor than the distance of trees to an access road. Considering these factors, there are over 300 million potential taps from sugar and red maples in the Northern Forest region. Only 2.5% of all the optimal sugarbushes in the U.S. are tapped for syrup production, yet in Vermont this utilization rate is much higher at 27%. Despite the relatively low rate of tapping, a much higher percentage of landowners, especially those from the New England states, had positive attitudes towards utilizing their land for syrup production. Significant barriers identified by landowners included concern over the possible loss in sawtimber value from tapping, lack of personal interest and knowledge in the sugaring process, time and labor constraints, and not having enough accessible maple trees. Through development of a Net Present Value calculator that takes into account over 30 variables for an individual tree, we determined that leasing taps for a minimum of five years and then eventually harvesting the tree is the most profitable management strategy over the long-term for most situations. Our analysis of public policies revealed significant differences between states and provinces in government resources devoted to the maple industry in research, extension, and promotion, cost-sharing programs, policies for tapping on public land, and property tax programs that encourage syrup production. Overall, we feel the industry is poised for further expansion and that long-term pricing and profitability will be a major driving force behind the rate of growth.
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