N.B. maple syrup producers have another bitter year

As maple syrup season comes to a close, producers say weather conditions made it another bad year.

As maple syrup season comes to a close, producers in New Brunswick say weather conditions made for another bad year.

The province's $12-million industry produced at about 40 per cent of its normal levels in 2008, according to Yvon Poitras, general manager of the New Brunswick Maple Syrup Association.

The group has about 100 members with another 100 collecting maple syrup as a hobby, while the industry employs about 2,000 seasonal workers in New Brunswick annually.

Poitras estimated producers lost between $6 and $7 million this year — another disappointing loss after the 2007 season in northern New Brunswick was deemed the worst in 35 years. 

Poitras blamed inhospitable weather conditions, including too much snow over the winter and unusually high temperatures around the time the snow began to melt. It was a sad twist of fate after maple syrup producers in January expressed optimism that the snowy start to the winter would provide a much-needed boost for the struggling industry.

Poitras said the only hope for producers trying to recoup their losses is in charging higher prices for what they have collected.

"It's started already. Some of the guys have held up their syrup and instead of getting $2.29 they're getting $3.50. They expect it will go up to $3.60 a pound," he said.

Poitras thinks it will take about six months for the increase in price to hit the shelves at retail stores.

New Brunswick is the world's third-largest producer of maple syrup, with about 300 operations producing 1.8 million kilograms of the product annually.

Earlier this month, the province announced producers will receive $300,000 this year to help them improve their operations.

Lower yields this year and the one before it mean some producers have already decided not to operate in 2009, Poitras said.