It's been a sweet sugaring season for New York maple producers, who have already made much more syrup than they did last year. But Cornell researchers believe the state could do even better and grow its $12 million maple industry into a $92 million enterprise.
Producers in New York currently tap less than 1 percent of all available maple trees statewide, said Michael Farrell, director of the Uihlein Forest, Cornell's 200-acre, 5,000-tap Maple Research and Extension Center in Lake Placid.
In some regions, maple production is much more prevalent, including Lewis, Montgomery, Wyoming and Clinton counties, where producers tap 3.2 percent of their trees. Farrell's research found that if all areas of New York followed suit, an extra $80 million could be generated annually.
He said New York could become a serious competitor to Quebec, which controls 80 percent of the worldwide maple syrup market. Based on the latest U.S. Forest Service data, New York has some 280 million potential taps, many more than Quebec, which is estimated to have 110 million. The province taps about one-third of its trees, or 40 million, while New York taps 1.8 million.
"There's no reason why New York can't do more," Farrell said. "We have the most maple trees of any state. We have some of the biggest markets for syrup. And through the Cornell Cooperative Extension Maple Team and New York State Maple Producers Association, we also have the educational programs and infrastructure in place to help people learn how to make syrup and grow a business.
"The reason Quebec dominates ... is due to their cultural traditions, economic incentives and government programs that have allowed them to develop their maple industry over time."
Farrell is hopeful that the Maple Tap Act, which Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) will pitch as part of the 2012 Farm Bill, would provide the U.S. Department of Agriculture access to up to $20 million per year for grants to support maple research, education, marketing and business development.
"Maple programming is often left out of traditional funding streams because it doesn't fit into the typical definitions for both forestry and agriculture," Farrell said. "A funding stream dedicated solely to maple would allow the United States to further develop this abundant and unique natural resource.
"It makes sense to invest in an industry that is sustainable, has high returns and that has a growing demand currently being supplied by another country. Previous funding invested in the maple industry has shown a tremendous return on investment, and the sustainability of this important industry is highly dependent on continued research efforts," he added.
Educating landowners about the options for utilizing their maple trees is important, because more than 90 percent of all potentially tappable maple trees in New York are located on privately owned land, he said.
Earlier versions of the legislation -- which never made it out of committee -- focused on payments to landowners who allow their maple trees to be tapped. It did not receive wide industry support, in part because New York already offers a similar incentive, Farrell said.
"In New York, we have the best program going and hardly anyone knows about it. If you produce enough syrup yourself or lease your land for tapping to someone else, you can qualify for agricultural assessment. In many places within our state, this benefit can save landowners over 80 percent in property taxes," he said.
Stacey Shackford is a staff writer at the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.