Saturday, April 25, 2015

Quebec's maple syrup police state is bizarre

Quebec’s supply management program for its maple syrup industry is running into a number of challenges, including cheaters and loss of market share.

Five large-scale producers are under particularly tight watch because they have been caught marketing outside of the supply-management system.

In one case, the marketing board has hired a security company to post watchers around the clock, and is billing the producer $1,000 a day.

In another case, the courts fined one farmer $150 for possession of marijuana and $424,000 for violating the supply management regulations.

Members of the marketing board get only 75 per cent of the anticipated market price when they are forced to deliver their syrup to the board. Many have not received full payment for deliveries going back to 2009.

One producer is owed more than $500,000.

The marketing board has run up an inventory of 68 million pounds worth about $150 million.

It’s holding a high price umbrella for the entire North American industry, so production has been soaring in New Brunswick, Vermont, Ontario and other competing locales.

Some big Quebec producers have gone to New Brunswick, such as David Dostie who has 46,000 taps there and Nancy Boucher has 60,000 taps.

Serge Beaulieu of Ormstown is chairman of the marketing board and says before supply management, there was a surplus of 20 million pounds and dealers knocked the price down to 85 cents. After the marketing board took control of inventories, it was able to extract $1.50 a pound.

But Quebec’s market share has dropped from 78 to 69 per cent and continues to decline as production in competing provinces and states as far away as Kentucky increase production.

Ray Bonenberg of Pembroke, president of the Ontario Maple Syrup Producers Association, is encouraging Ontario farmers to tap more trees to increase production from current averages of four million litres per season closer to the 10 million litres bought by Ontario consumers.

There is a rapidly-increasing export market to countries as far away as Japan and Saudi Arabia, and some of that maple syrup is exported from Ontario.

Slapping supply management on an industry that thrives on exports makes absolutely no sense. What might make sense is organizing producers so they can expand export markets.

And it makes no sense for a farm organization to criminalize producers. It’s simply bizarre.