HIGHGATE, Vt.—A loose coalition of farmers in Franklin County, Vt. are sitting on an estimated 5,000 barrels of new crop syrup until they get what they feel is a fair price to sell it.
“Every producer I talk to says they’re holding their syrup,” said Jason Gagne of Gagne Family Maple in Highgate, Vt. who boils off 32,000 taps. “Nobody wants to let it go because they don’t like the price yet.”
Gagne stopped short of calling it a syrup strike and said there is no organized effort to keep the syrup off the market.
But he said producers in his county, as well as in Addison and Lamoille counties are frustrated with prices offered by packers.
“Nobody is shipping syrup because we’re not happy," Gagne said.
Over the last two weeks most of the major syrup packers have announced increases in their bulk buying price out of the field.
Most buyers have gone up 30 cents per pound with premiums for organic and big volume.
Gagne said it should be more.
“The packers had their best year ever, they sold 25 percent more than they ever sold,” he said. “But the producers have taken it on the chin the last two seasons.”
Doug Edwards, who boils off 27,000 taps nearby in Jeffersonville, Vt. and taps woods in Franklin County is also holding out for a better price on his crop of Vermont organic.
“I think the price should be anywhere between $2.75 and $3.25 a pound so a producer can make a good living on it,” Edwards told The Maple News on Tuesday.
Edwards said he had the worst crop he’s ever had but still has barrels of organic syrup to sell.
“When we have a half a crop of syrup and there’s not enough Vermont organic to go around there should have been a better price from the beginning,” Edwards said.
Edwards said the supply and demand dynamics of situatuion could eventually play out in the producer's favor.
“I’m pretty sure it will go up in price.”
Not all producers in Franklin County are withholding syrup.
Gary Corey of Corey’s Maple Orchard in Fairfield, Vt. who boils off of 112,000 taps said he didn’t agree with the gambit.
“It’s not worth the gamble and I’m not going to play that game,” Corey told The Maple News on Monday, saying he’s loyal to his buyer Butternut Mountain Farms of Morrisville, Vt. “I think it’s a bad choice on the producer’s part.”
Corey defended the packers, pointing out that if the crop was bigger than normal the buyers would still buy it.
Bulk buyers create a liquidity in the marketplace, usually paying on the barrelhead, allowing for sugarmakers to make money on their crop quickly.
“If they don’t like the price they can jug it up themselves,” Corey said.
JR Sloan of Fletcher, Vt., the biggest individual sugarmaker in the U.S. with 216,000 taps, also said he will sell his crop to Butternut Mountain Farms, owned by David Marvin.
“We will have it all up to him by this week,” Sloan told The Maple News on Monday. “I support Dave all the way.”
Estimates are that the U.S. crop will be down anywhere from 25 percent to 35 percent from last year’s record breaking season.
Meanwhile, syrup sales on the consumer side continue to be robust.
Virtually the entire global crop from 2020 from the U.S. and Canada has been sold.
The Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers currently has 106 million pounds of syrup in the Strategic Reserve, according to officials.
Gagne thinks it would take more than the current offered price before producers start shipping syrup again.
“The goal is to get a fair price, that’s all,” Gagne said.
Until then they will just sit on it.
“When they see there is no syrup coming in they might change their mind,” Gagne said. “Money talks.”