Sunday, August 23, 2015

Fighting Big Syrup

While many Americans associate Vermont with maple syrup, Quebec is its center. The province’s trees produce more than 70 percent of the world’s supply and fill the majority of the United States’ needs. The federation, in turn, has used that dominance to restrict supply and control prices of the pancake topping.
It is effectively a cartel, approved by the provincial government and backed by the law. In 1990, the federation became the only wholesale seller of the province’s production, and in 2004, it gained the power to decide who gets to make maple syrup and how much.
For much of its 49-year history, the federation largely toiled out of sight. Then in 2012, $18 million of maple syrup was stolen from the global strategic reserve, a warehouse where the federation stockpiles the sweetener. Police arrested more than two dozen people in the heist, the first of whom is expected to go on trial in November.
But the federation’s elevated profile exposed the controversial methods it uses to police the market. When the federation suspects farmers are producing and selling outside the system, it posts guards on their properties. It seeks fines from producers and buyers who do not follow the rule. In the most extreme situations, it seizes production.
The federation is unapologetic. It defends the system, saying it keeps prices high and stable.
“Three-quarters of our members are happy or very happy with what we are doing,” said Simon Trépanier, the federation’s executive director. “Those producers are living through the maple syrup production. It’s their main income because we present them with a stable income.”
Mr. Hodge is similarly intransigent. At this point in the season, Mr. Hodge would normally have sold his syrup, turning his attention to his cattle and other crops. But this year he had nothing to sell. He contends that farmers should be allowed to set their own level of production and sell directly to large buyers, regardless of what the law says.
“They call us rebels, say we’re in a sugar war or something. I’ve heard rumors of that,” said Mr. Hodge, at his farm in Bury, Quebec.
“Yeah, I guess you could call it that.”
Across the table, Whitney, his 20-year-old daughter, who also farms, looked up from her smartphone and interjected.
“A war over maple syrup, like how pathetic can you get?”
Syrup more valuable than oil?  I guess the maple syrup cartel is more effective than OPEC.  The cartel definitely seems more aggressive in policing its members than OPEC is.  I just wouldn't think that a maple syrup cartel would have so much influence.

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