Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario Commentary By Suzanne Armstrong, CFFO Director of Research/ Manager of Board & Committee Services
Our Ontario maple syrup season has come to an end in most regions. We have had an excellent season across Ontario, and maple syrup farmers have had a busy time keeping up with processing all the sap. According to the Ontario Maple Syrup Production Report, “storage has reached capacity at many syrup operations this year.”
On our trip to the North East district of CFFO as part of our Policy Tour, we visited St. Joseph Island, just south of Sault St. Marie, ON. Ontario’s largest maple syrup producer, Gilbertson’s Maple Products, is located on the island. We were lucky enough to get a tour from Brent Gilbertson, one of two brothers who are currently running the family operation. We also got to meet his brother and partner Calvin, and his father Don who has now retired from the operation.
The Gilbertson’s farm is an excellent example of agri-tourism, alongside a successful farm business. They produce enough syrup to export significant amounts to the U.S. They also have a restaurant and gift shop attached to the evaporating room, allowing guests to see the operation in action, and to enjoy some delicious syrup on top of a large plate of pancakes after their tour of the bush. It was amazing to hear about the long-term care of the wood-lots the family has taken over nearly a century of collecting sap. They don’t even need to plant new trees as long as the bush is being stewarded correctly.
Although Gilbertson’s is a large operation, the island was littered with smaller operations tapping trees and selling syrup. It reminded me of my home region of Waterloo, where this time of year driving in the country there are buggies along the side of the road with bottles full of fresh syrup for sale.
Most of the time we don’t think of woodlots when we think of farming, but maple syrup is an important part of the agricultural industry in Ontario, and even more so in Canada. There is opportunity to expand maple syrup production in Ontario, especially by leasing tapping rights on government managed crown land.
Last summer the Ontario government was considering changes to the Maple Syrup Regulations. These have now been changed, as of Jan. 1, 2016. However, some of these changes are being brought in slowly, giving producers time to comply.
One of the biggest changes for Ontarians is the move to comply with the colour and classification system used federally, which is also aligned with regulations used in most of North America. This move will make it even easier for Ontario producers to export maple syrup.
For Ontarians, it will mean moving from five colour/taste classifications down to four. Just to keep consumers on their toes, some of the names will be the same, but will have done a bit of musical chairs, changing to mean different grades of taste and colour. Thankfully, there are posters available for maple producers in order to help customers navigate the new terms, and to find their favourite type of maple syrup.