Quebec maple syrup makers say supply cap is hurting them

Maple syrup producers in Quebec, the largest regional producer of maple syrup in the world, say they are not reaping the benefits of a recent market boom for the product due to a cap on the quantity of syrup they can produce.

Canada produces 80% of the world’s maple syrup, with the province of Quebec producing 90% of that.

But despite producing most of the world’s maple syrup, Quebec’s maple farmers say a production quota limit enforced by the Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers is limiting their income and risking increased competition.

The federation introduced its quota system in the early 2000’s to limit excess production and achieve the overall goal of stabilizing the price for the province’s sap farmers by smoothing out annual variations in the syrup harvest.

But Quebec producers are fighting back against this regulation, with many saying the quotas are too restrictive on them to profit from a rising demand for maple syrup.

Jim Dempsey is one of these Quebec producers who has expressed anger at the current quota system, and said it would hurt them in the long run.

“We can stay with our quota system all we want, but all we’re doing is hurting ourselves,” he said.

Black marketing trade in maple syrup

Tied down by the federation’s strict quota system, many Quebec producers are reportedly turning to the black market to sell their maple syrup.

Quebec producers who spoke with Canadian television network Global News estimate over 90% of fellow producers sell outside their quota.

A recent 70 page report commissioned by Quebec Agriculture Minister, Pierre Paradis, highlighted the negative economic effect the current quota system has had on Quebec’s maple syrup industry.

The Agriculture Minister sought a review of how the Federation regulates supply, with the report finding that Quebec’s share of global supply had declined by 10% in a decade even as demand and output have increased, leading to a dire prediction from Minister Paradis.

“If nothing changes, another 10% will be lost by 2025,” he said.

New Brunswick outside the law

Progress against the quota system was made last year when a New Brunswick maple syrup processor won an appeal court victory in his dispute with the Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers and their quota system.

The New Brunswick Court of Appeal said that the federation’s limits on the amount of sap and syrup producer Etienne St-Pierre can buy don’t apply in the East Coast province. The court upheld an earlier decision by the Court of Queen’s Bench in Fredericton, which said the attempt to apply the quotas to St-Pierre’s company Kedgwick, N.B, didn’t apply.

The federation filed a complaint against St-Pierre in 2007 with a subsequent injunction issued by the Quebec Agricultural Marketing Board.

But the New Brunswick courts refused to accept the board’s decision and its ratification by a Quebec court as having jurisdiction in the province.

This May 2015 decision could set a legal precedent for further producers to challenge the Federation’s restrictive quota system.

Selling outside the quotas set, such as on the black market, carries sanctions from the Federation that can include legal action, fines and asset seizures.

Despite protests and court action against the controversial quota system, the Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers has defended its practices by claiming a stockpile of excess maple syrup, currently around 60 million pounds, will help meet future demands.

Federation spokeswoman, Caroline Cyr, said that stockpiling as a result of the quota system was a necessary procedure to help meet growing global demand.

“World demand is now increasing, we need to be able to keep our markets to supply them, so that’s why we stockpile,” she said.