The Quebec Maple Syrup Producers (QMSP) traditionally open the sugar season with the tapping of the first maple tree of the year in February. The ritual marks the start of a hectic few weeks in which producers rush to boil down the running sap before warmer days bring on spring and the budding of trees. It is a story that is deliciously familiar to the Valley.
This year, with media events out of the question and uncertainty hanging over the sugar shack industry, the QMSP produced a video highlighting the important role played by syrup, and the forests that make it all happen, in the Quebec economy and culture. Having trekked through deep snow and cold temperatures to prepare over a million taps in the Montérégie-west alone, producers are ready to race after a slow start.
Last year’s run smashed harvest records with a production of 175 million pounds of syrup. Sales were also up 14 per cent, and exports of 135 million pounds were also up 21 per cent. The numbers certainly made up for the uncertainty of last spring when the first wave of the pandemic wiped out much of the season for sugar shack owners, who tend to make up the public face of the industry. “We adapted our ways of doing things,” says Serge Beaulieu, QMSP president and an Ormstown-based producer. “The running of the maple trees was very beneficial for everyone and consumers responded by purchasing maple products throughout the year.”
For David Hall, the QMSP region president for the Montérégie-East, there is every reason to believe in the potential of the maple syrup industry in Quebec: “The sales objectives for the coming years are ambitious and we believe we will be able to reach them, both here in our regions and around the world, because more and more consumers are discovering maple syrup and its byproducts and they are developing a taste for it.”
Hall points out that over this past year, producers have also had to become more innovative to facilitate direct sales to consumers, in many ways by developing the online market. Many local producers have created websites and online shops so customers who are wary of going out can have their favourite maple products delivered or prepared in advance for pickup.
Montérégie stands out
As one of the earliest regions to warm from winter’s chill, the Montérégie contributes significantly to the province’s maple production. Last year, Montérégie producers with quota produced more than 13.8 million pounds of syrup from over 3.2 million taps in 14 MRCs. This amounted to an average yield of 4.25 pounds per tap, which far exceeded the provincial average of 3.6 pounds.
There are 254 such businesses in the Montérégie-West, which account for over 1 million taps and $12.5 million in sales. Of those, more than 60 per cent are located in the Haut-Saint-Laurent, and this number does not include the many small producers who are boiling without quota.