In the tiny town of Laurierville, deep in the heart of Quebec, sits a former furniture warehouse that has been converted to hold half the world's reserve supply of maple syrup. This strategic reserve is designed to stabilize the price and supply of maple syrup for a growing global market, and all commercial maple producers in Quebec are required to deliver part of their crop to the reserve each year.
Vermont Edition got a tour from Caroline Cyr, who works in communications for the Quebec Maple Syrup Producers.
More than 70% of the world's maple syrup is produced in the Canadian province of Quebec. It's tightly controlled by a quota system set up by this federation of producers - a sort of legal government-sanctioned cartel - more than 15 years ago. Any producer in the province who sells syrup in bulk is required to get a quota, essentially a license to tap a certain number of trees. The producers then sell their bulk syrup to a seller or sellers approved by the group. And a portion of the finished syrup crop is sent to the reserve, where it helps to ensure that there's never a dip in the global supply.
Producers don't get paid for their reserve portion until it sells. Sometimes that's a few months, other times a few years. While most sugarers like the arrangement, there are a few who balk at the restrictions and have attempted to operate outside the system. They can be fined hundreds of thousands of dollars if caught.
Each barrel of maple syrup that comes into the reserve is tested by a third party and then pasteurized and combined with other syrup of the same grade. Each 600-pound barrel of finished syrup is then stored in the reserve until it is needed. The current price of a barrel of syrup is $1800 Canadian--about 20 times the price of a barrel of oil.
At the time Vermont Edition visited, the warehouse was nearing capacity, with 80,000 barrels in stock, worth more than $140 million Canadian. And that's only half of the total reserve, which is spread out among three different facilities in Quebec.
But the system is not foolproof. In 2007-2008, after a series of bad sugaring seasons, the reserve ran completely dry. After that, the Quebec Maple Syrup Producers scrambled to give out more quotas. Another round was distributed in 2016, worth about 5 million new taps.
Meanwhile, demand keeps growing. Sales have hit records the last several years running. The biggest importer of Quebec maple syrup is the United States, which buys more than 60% of Quebec's bulk production each year. Other countries buying up this liquid gold are Germany, the U.K., Japan, France and Australia.
The 2019 crop should start arriving at the strategic reserve at the end of the season in May.
Broadcast live on Monday, April 22, 2019 at noon; rebroadcast at 7 p.m.