Canada's maple production falls for second consecutive year

MONTREAL - A late spring caused Canada's maple syrup production to fall for the second consecutive year in 2015 - and El Nino is threatening to put a dent in next spring's output as well.

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The warmer El Nino weather is expected to have an impact on a number of commodities, including maple sap, said Sylvain Charlebois, professor of distribution and food policy at the University of Guelph's Food Institute.

"I see little evidence that would encourage anyone to see a good year in 2016," he said in an interview.

The impact would hit Quebec, the world's dominant maple syrup producer, along with Ontario, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and syrup-producing American states like Vermont and New York.

Producers on both sides of the border aren't yet ready, however, to throw in the towel.

The Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers says it's too soon to know what impact warmer conditions could have next spring.

"Nobody can predict the production of each year," said federation deputy director Paul Rouillard.

He also doubts that weather poses a long-term problem for Quebec, because colder parts of the province could - over several decades - pick up the slack from more affected regions. Quebec's federation, representing about 7,300 producers, is seeking approval to add 2.5 million taps to the 43 million already active each year.

Quebec's supply management system keeps syrup prices high by using its strategic reserve - which contains 60 million pounds - to balance production fluctuations.

A shorter season also affected U.S. maple production last year but it's premature to forecast weather problems several months ahead, said Matthew Gordon, executive director of the Vermont Maple Sugar Makers Association.

"It certainly could have an impact, but I wouldn't base any business decisions on it right now," he said.

Gordon said although El Nino affects winter weather, it tends to have less impact on spring's oscillating temperatures of freezing nights and thawing days that are crucial for maple production.

Canadian maple production decreased 6.1 per cent to 8.9 million gallons last season, said Statistics Canada.

The value of maple production was $358 million, down from $380 million in 2014 and the $408 million peak in 2013.

Quebec remained the country's largest producer, accounting for more than 90 per cent of national output. However, its production decreased 5.8 per cent from 2014, Statcan said Wednesday.

Poor weather in parts of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia also hurt production in Canada's third and fourth-largest maple producing provinces after Ontario, which was stable.

Despite lower production, maple syrup sales and exports have steadily increased over the past five years, said Rouillard.

Quebec export volumes to the U.S. increased last year even though new American production caused the province's U.S. market share to drop to about 72 per cent.

Quebec producers also spend about $5 million annually to develop new maple products and to expand exports to markets in Europe, Asia and Australia.

The weaker loonie is expected to give Canadian sales a jolt as exported syrup becomes cheaper.

Gordon said U.S. bottlers that aren't marketing their state-produced syrup will look to purchase lower priced bulk Canadian syrup. That could be a disincentive for American producers to continue to add more taps.



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