Tapping the money behind maple syrup

A waffle with maple syrup.

Canada may hold 80 percent of the world's maple production, but the U.S. produces its fair share of the sweet stuff.

In New Hampshire, Bruce Bascom's maple farm produces 80,000 gallons of sap per day. His family business, Bascom Maple Farms, is the largest producer in the state, with 300 miles of vacuum pipe to suck the sap out of trees.

Bascom's farm is modernizing the age-old craft of tapping trees and hanging buckets.

"If you have a sap bucket, it would do about 10 gallons of sap for a hole  in that tree." says Bascom. "Usually it's 40 gallons of sap to 1 gallon of maple syrup. Under newer technology nowadays, like vacuum tubing, a lot of times people are getting twice as much sap. "

Go beyond Bascom's farm, and there's a vast global network of suppliers and producers.

Douglas Whynott spent a year with Bascom, chronicling the business behind the maple industry in his book "The Sugar Season." He says, even maple producers like Bascom are under the price pressures of the Quebec Federation of Maple Producers, which controls the world price of syrup.

Whynott says its similar to OPEC's regulation of oil in that there's a global strategic reserve of maple syrup aptly called "the surplus."

"It's a supply of syrup that is kept on hand to sell to producers when they need it. Or, to be there in the event of a shortage." says Whynott. "Of course, there's going to be a black market which attempts to circumvent the rules of the Federation."

About the author

Kai Ryssdal is the host and senior editor of Marketplace, public radio’s program on business and the economy.

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