New Brunswick

We're No. 2: Maple syrup producers in N.B., Ontario lay claim to same sweet title

In a uniquely Canadian interprovincial economic dispute, New Brunswick maple syrup producers are challenging claims being made by producers in Ontario about who ranks second in national syrup output.

N.B. not sugar-coating its displeasure with Ontario’s maple syrup claims, insisting its numbers are fudged

Mario Bonenfant prepares to heat up maple syrup, to serve over snow as maple taffy. (Rebecca Ugolini/CBC)

In a uniquely Canadian interprovincial economic dispute, New Brunswick maple syrup producers are challenging claims being made by producers in Ontario about who ranks second in national syrup output.

Canada is the world's largest producer of maple syrup and although the vast majority of that indisputably comes from Quebec, recent Ontario claims of being in the second spot has New Brunswick on the boil.

"I don't know what Ontario had to gain from this. I do not see where it comes from," said Louise Poitras of the New Brunswick Maple Syrup Association about Ontario claims it is the larger maple player.

"We are number two and we aim to stay that way," said Poitras.

In television spots currently airing mostly in Ontario but broadcast nationally on some cable channels, the Ontario Maple Syrup Producers' Association has been boldly laying claim to New Brunswick's spot as Canada's second-largest syrup maker.

"Did you know Ontario is Canada's second-largest maple syrup producer..." begins one commercial that features two children tapping trees and enjoying freshly made Ontario maple taffy.

But New Brunswick believes that claim involves some significant fudging.

Tapping into the numbers

According to Statistics Canada, New Brunswick maple syrup production has exceeded production in Ontario for seven of the last eight years. In 2019, the latest year on record, New Brunswick produced a record 598,000 imperial gallons (2.7 million litres) of syrup or syrup-based maple products — enough to fill an Olympic-size swimming pool to overflowing.

That was 19 per cent more syrup than Ontario produced in 2019, on par with differences between the two provinces recorded in 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017.

But there was one exception.  

Ads being run by Ontario maple syrup producers claim the province is Canada's second-largest maker of the product, a claim New Brunswick producers dispute. (CBC)

In 2018, hot spring weather in New Brunswick prevented normal sap runs that require cold nights and output fell significantly. Ontario did produce more syrup than New Brunswick that year and its claim to being Canada's second-largest producer rests on that event.

"Mother nature didn't co-operate that's all," said Poitras about 2018. "All of a sudden, it was more summer than it was spring, so we had much less."

John Williams of the Ontario producers group said the current media campaign claiming the province is a bigger player than New Brunswick was constructed before 2019 production numbers were released in December and, as far as was known at the time, Ontario was second.  

"It is back and forth with New Brunswick for sure," said Williams of where the two provinces have ranked over the years

"I'm pretty sure when we did that [commercial] only the 2018 [numbers] were out. I don't think we had the 2019 at that point."

Statistics Canada has syrup production data back to 1924 and Ontario was a larger producer than New Brunswick for 82 straight years until 2006. An effort by successive New Brunswick governments starting in the 1990s to devote increasing amounts of Crown land to maple production eventually paid off with enormous leaps in output.

New Brunswick producers make eight times the amount of maple syrup they did in 2000 — the second most in Canada. (Ingrid Munroe/Submitted)

Since 2000, maple syrup production in New Brunswick has increased 700 per cent, allowing it to catch and then surpass output in Ontario which grew 35 per cent over the same period.

A distant second

Still, in Canada second place in maple syrup production is a distant second, no matter who owns the title.

Last year, 91.1 per cent of all maple syrup produced in the country came from Quebec. New Brunswick's share was just 4.5 per cent, with Ontario at 3.8 per cent and Nova Scotia less than one per cent.

Williams said second and third are both good spots and there's no hard feelings.

"It's good to be on the podium," he said. 

Still, Poitras said moving past Ontario was an achievement for New Brunswick and, with sap just days away from starting the 2020 season, the province's true ranking cannot reasonably be disputed.

"We are number two and we're really celebrating this time of year," said Poitras.

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