Maple syrup season means business in Quebec

Spiles and collection pipelines on trees at MND Maple Products in Grenville-sur-la-Rouge, Quebec. Photo: James Morgan

In Quebec, maple syrup is a big business and defining part of the province’s culture.

According to the Quebec producers and producers (PPAQ) which is the main federation of maple syrup producers, more than 130 million pounds of syrup were produced across Quebec in 2021 and approximately CDN $ 140 million in syrup was sold in 2020.

Quebec accounts for 73% of world maple syrup production, followed by the United States at 21%, and the rest of Canada at 6%.

Maple syrup producers in Argenteuil County, located northwest of Montreal, are presently in what they believe will be the second half of their season. Denis Lalande, owner of Les Sucreries Lachute, said the season will likely continue into early April.

Warm weather during the final, full week of March meant temperatures did not go below freezing for a few nights, which meant the sap kept running, and Lalande had to keep collecting and boiling, which resulted in very little sleep.

Denis Lalande’s son Hugo and his grandson Ulysse help with maple syrup production. When the season is over, Hugo will return to his regular job as a freighter captain on the St. Lawrence River and Great Lakes as a new shipping season begins.

Hugo Lalande, left, and his father Denis Lalande, right, of Les Sucreries Lachute in Lachute, Quebec.  Photo: James Morgan

Hugo Lalande, left, and his father Denis Lalande, right, of Les Sucreries Lachute in Lachute, Quebec. Photo: James Morgan

The Lalandes have tapped 10,200 sugar maple trees this season on their farm in Lachute. They have installed a new H20 brand evaporator and reverse osmosis system for syrup production this year. Reverse osmosis systems remove more water from the sap and reduce the amount of time required to boil the sap until it becomes syrup.

“It’s like a brand-new Corvette,” Hugo said.

Quebec’s government-regulated maple syrup system

When the syrup is ready, the Lalandes put it into stainless steel barrels. In Quebecmost maple syrup production is supply-managed, just like milk production across Canada.

The Lalande’s are members of the PPAQ, which is the supply management organization. The Lalande’s have 10,000 pounds worth of quota in the system, which is approximately 57 barrels. The barrels are transported to PPAQ’s secure facility where a vast reserve of maple syrup is stored and marketed as required. If a producer ships more than their quota to PPAQ, they are not paid for it. However, the excess amount may be banked for another year if they ship fewer barrels than usual.

“It stabilizes my income. I’m sure of having the same income all the time, ”Denis said.

PPAQ producers are also permitted to sell small quantities to local customers in smaller containers.

Nearby at MND Maple Products in Grenville-sur-la-Rouge, the season has been off to a good start, according to owner Dale Cruise. MND also has a large, modern evaporator and reverse osmosis system. They boiled sap for the first time on March 12. Cruise said that has only happened four times in the 22 years he has been producing maple syrup and it has been a good season so far with the right temperatures and minimal sunshine to keep the lines cool .

Harrison Neill, left, and his father, Glenn Neill, right, beside the wood-fired Lightning brand evaporator Harrison has set up to make maple syrup on the family's property.  Photo: James Morgan

Harrison Neill, left, and his father, Glenn Neill, right, beside the wood-fired Lightning brand evaporator Harrison has set up to make maple syrup on the family’s property. Photo: James Morgan

MND has tapped 25,000 trees but is not part of the PPAQ so only sells its products in small containers at its own shop and at other local retailers. MND also has an Ontario division that uses sap from Ontario trees for the Ontario market.

With the importance of maple syrup in Quebec, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that there are schools that teach how to produce it.

Harrison Neill of Grenville-sur-la-Rouge is presently completing the practical part of the course in maple syrup production at the Center de formation agricultural Saint-Anselme, an agricultural college south of Quebec City. Harrison was working in excavation after he finished secondary school and then worked one season at MND, and the experience made him decide to take the course.

“I enjoyed doing it during the winter, so I tried the course out,” he said.

The course in Sainte-Anselme is seven months long. Four months are spent at the campus and the final three months are practical work. Neill doing his practical work at MND but has set up his own small sugar bush for practice, and to provide some syrup in cans for family and friends. He has tapped 400 trees on his family’s 40-acre property and rather than using plastic pipelines to collect the sap, he is using old-fashioned pails affixed to each tree.

“It’s an experience,” Neill said.

The sap is boiled using a wood-fired Lightning brand evaporator that is more than 50 years old and previously belonged to another retired local maple syrup maker. The evaporator has a brick-lined firebox and can boil 120 gallons of sap per hour, which results in just three gallons of maple syrup. Moving the heavy unit into place required some hard labor.

“It took eight people and strong arms,” ​​Neill said.

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