The impact of COVID-19 on the maple syrup industry

The impact of COVID-19 on the maple syrup industry

The beginning of the decade will mostly be remembered for its COVID-19 pandemic, which has been and is still stressful for many people. The virus has affected everyone in a way or another, and its consequences have proven to be quite dire for those who contracted the disease. Most people had to stay confined at home for months, which put their mental health at risk. For many of us, dealing with both loneliness and anxiety was a challenge. The pandemic also gave a hard time to most businesses, and that is especially true for smaller ones. Indeed, many companies were forced to close their premises to prevent the virus from spreading. Restaurants, shops and other non-essential businesses alike put the safety of their customers first and ceased most of their activities. Essential services did the same, but stayed open to the public while applying strict hygiene and social-distancing rules, which must have been especially difficult.

Sugar shack owners were not an exception and, like many, they had to face the impacts of the pandemic. In the province of Quebec, there are more than 200 sugar shacks which receive many families in their reception hall each year. Most of them are small businesses that mostly thrive off catering, which makes for a majority of their revenues. In certain cases, welcoming groups of guests for brunch represents up to 80% of the sap house’s profits. Only a small proportion of the owners’ revenues thus comes from selling their maple syrup, and that unfortunately was the only thing they could do this year.

Sugar shacks were exceptionally closed by the government on March 15 in order to prevent the spread of the virus. Unluckily, that happened at the beginning of the season, as many sugar shacks usually begin to welcome guests at the start of the month. As you might already know, the sugaring season lasts for six to eight weeks depending on the conditions. Therefore, a lot of maple syrup producers missed on a lot of revenues, as the 2020 season was almost entirely cancelled. Unlike regular restaurants, sap houses are only open during springtime, and cannot rely on take out to strive. That is why the timing of the pandemic was so unfortunate for sugar shack owners, their reception hall being closed the rest of the year anyway. Because of COVID-19, some had no choice but to rely on a line of credit to cover the costs of their operations, and many employees lost their jobs. Plus, huge amounts of food were wasted as all producers had to donate, return or throw away everything they were supposed to prepare for their customers. Like for many others, it has not been an easy situation for my colleagues.

Despite the harshness of the 2020 season caused by the pandemic, it has been estimated to be a very good year for maple syrup production in Quebec. The harvest was estimated to 3.59 pounds of syrup per tap in average, which is very good for producers. This year’s harvest has therefore been great despite the unusual context, especially considering the fact that the 2019 season has yielded an average of 3.43 pounds per tap in comparison. Most producers had to demonstrate a lot of ingenuity in order to be able to safely sell their maple syrup to their customers, as it basically was their only source of income for the whole season. Many producers switched to online sales, for examples. Luckily, the retail demand for maple syrup has remained quite strong despite the virus, which probably saved some businesses down the road. Many people started to stock up on many products, and maple syrup was one of them. On the other hand, a lot of maple syrup buyers are businesses such as restaurant, hotels and gift shops. They usually buy larger amounts of the golden syrup, but all have been closed during the pandemic. While they usually are profitable, that unfortunately caused another loss of earnings for most sugar shacks owners in this situation. Luckily, many businesses have slowly and carefully reopened their premises over the last months. While hygiene and social-distancing rules are still in place, those companies resumed most of their operations and, as maple syrup is available all year, producers can do business with them once again. 

Thanks to the hard work of maple syrup producers, there will not be any shortage of syrup in the province. The Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers also keeps a huge strategic reserve so we do not have to worry about any shortfall. That is reassuring, especially considering the fact that the maple syrup from Quebec ships in many countries, including the United States. There will not be any waste either, as all the syrup produced was and will be either sold or stored.

Many regulations were issued in response to the pandemic in order to limit its impacts on both public health and the producers. For instance, in Quebec, producers are no longer admitted on the premises where their maple syrup is usually graded. Such a rule aims to reduce the contact with the employees in charge of quality control at ACER Inspection Division, and therefore limits the spread of COVID-19. As agricultural operations were considered essential from the beginning, producers were able to safely travel between regions to deliver their maple syrup to customers. In the province, gate sales of syrup were also allowed, so producers could sell their syrup at the entrance of their premises while complying with the hygiene and social-distancing measures in place. As you can see, everything has been organized so the transport and buying of maple syrup stayed entirely secure despite the pandemic. For all those reasons, you can rest assured that my colleagues’ pure maple syrup is completely safe for you to order. I know they strive to clean and sanitize all of their installations so their products do not bring you any harm.

In the end, while this year was probably not the most profitable for maple syrup producers, the industry was still able to prosper in its own way. The good news is, your favorite spring nectar is still available even though you might not have had the chance to visit a sugar shack this year. Let’s cross our fingers and hope that the 2021 season will be more enjoyable for everyone!

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References:

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