Vermont’s maple industry contributed between $317 and $330 million in total sales to the state’s economy in 2013, according to a recently completed economic contribution study conducted for the Vermont Maple Sugar Makers Association (VMSMA) by the Center for Rural Studies at the University of Vermont.
The industry added between $140 and $144 million to Vermont in profits and wages, the study said, and supported between 2,735 and 3,169 full-time equivalent jobs. The study’s conclusions are based on a survey of Vermont maple producers and telephone interviews with maple-related businesses in the state, including maple packers/processors, equipment manufacturers, and sales and installation operations.
It is the first economic contribution study of Vermont’s maple industry, said Center for Rural Studies director Jane Kolodinsky.
“People have the sense that the maple industry makes an important economic contribution to the state of Vermont,” said Matt Gordon, executive director of the VMSMA. “This study confirms and quantifies just how large and vital that contribution is. Maple is not just a part of Vermont’s heritage but an important part of its economy.”
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Vermont is the largest maple producer in the United States, accounting for 42 percent of production, and maple is the fourth most-valued agricultural commodity in the state. Production grew by 111 percent from 1992 to 2014, from 570,000 to 1,320,000 gallons, according to USDA.
The new study adds significant new data to the broad information available from federal and state agencies.
- The average maple sugar producer in Vermont has 3,451 taps and produces 1,221 gallons of syrup. The median – or midpoint – for producers is 1,175 taps with 295 gallons of syrup produced, indicating that the relatively small number of producers with more than 5,000 taps produces the bulk of the state’s syrup.
- In the last five years, 47.7 percent of producers reported that their maple production increased, while 37.2 percent saw their production remain the same. Larger producers, on average, increased production, while smaller ones stayed constant. That pattern held when producers were asked to forecast production levels for the next five years.
- Maple-related business contributed the majority of total sales to the state: $237 million of the lower end of the estimate ($317 million) and $238 million at the higher end ($330 million). Maple producers added $79 million and $92 million to lower and higher end of the two estimates.
- Maple syrup was overwhelmingly the main product on maple operations, accounting for 90 percent of sales on average, with maple cream a distant second at 13.8 percent.
- The two largest threats foreseen by producers were related to the environment (climate change, changing weather patterns and Asian longhorn beetles) and overproduction.
- The two largest opportunities producers saw are new markets, including Asia and Europe, and in the marketing opportunities presented by growing consumer interest in natural food.
- Material and supplies, including evaporators, tapping tools, spouts, mainlines and jugs, are the largest expense for producers of all sizes, ranging from 88 percent for operations with up to 499 taps to 73.8 percent for operations with between 2,000 and 4,999 taps.
- Most of the supplies purchased benefitted companies based in Vermont: 80.6 percent of companies providing supplies to maple producers were based in Vermont, with 8.8 percent in New Hampshire, 1.4 percent in Quebec and the rest scattered in other states.
- The top three Vermont industries affected by the profits and wages in the maple industry were food manufacturing, maple production itself and the retail equipment sector.
The study used two different scenarios to reach its conclusions, one based on the assumption that there are 1,553 maple producers in the state, a figure from the agricultural census conducted by the USDA every four years, and a second based on 1,800 producers, the lower end of the estimate made by VMSMA of between 1,800 and 3000 Vermont maple producers.
The study also includes data gathered in telephone surveys with 15 maple-related business, defined as those that buy maple syrup in bulk for resale or manufacture or install maple equipment. There are 24 of these companies in the state, along with many other smaller retailers whose inventory includes maple equipment.
Researchers used statistical techniques to gauge the contribution of the full maple production sector from a sample of 295, with a resulting margin of error of plus or minus five percentage points.
The sample for maple-related companies was not large enough to extrapolate from. For the report, researchers used only the data supplied in the 15 telephone interviews, so the sales and employment data for the group is likely under-reported.
The study used a customized version of a commonly used economic impact model to reach its conclusions. The model allowed the researchers to determine not only direct sales by the maple industry, but indirect sales (sales that results from suppliers of the sugar makers purchasing goods and services and hiring workers to fill the order from the sugar maker), and induced sales (sales from the effects of the changes in household income due to the economic activity from the direct and indirect effects).
The economic contribution of the maple industry is likely underestimated because it doesn’t take into account tourism related to the maple industry,” said Florence Becot, a research specialist at the Center for Rural Studies, who authored the report. “If the contributions of open houses during maple season and maple festivals were taken into account, the number would be even bigger,” she said. “But clearly, maple is a vital part of Vermont’s economy and culture.”
The Center for Rural Studies at the University of Vermont is a nonprofit, fee-for-service research and resource center that works with people and communities to address social, economic, and resource-based challenges. A part of UVM's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences since 1978, the center supports the research and teaching missions of the university through its work in applied research, community outreach, program evaluation and consulting services. Its departmental home is in Community Development and Applied Economics.
Founded in 1893, the Vermont Maple Sugar Makers Association helps promote and protect the branding of pure Vermont maple products and to serve as the official voice for Vermont sugar makers. Its membership is composed of Vermont maple sugarmakers, processors, and equipment manufacturers and retailers.