Update From Augusta -- There’s Gold in The Hills
Last weekend, we celebrated Maine Maple Sunday -- a sure sign that we are in the middle of sugaring season -- that annual Maine tradition that signals the coming of spring. Maple syrup is great on our pancakes, but it is also an important part of our overall economic picture as a state.
Last year, I met with a constituent in Rangeley Plantation who has a commercial maple sugaring operation. He had one question for me -- Why isn’t the State of Maine during more to promote Maine Maple products on a regional, national and international basis? I didn’t have a good answer, so I did a little research -- and as a result, I put in a bill, LD 109, to establish a study commission to investigate what appears to be a very promising development and job creation opportunity for Maine’s woods.
In doing the research that lead to the bill, here’s what jumped out at me --Maine is one of the nation’s top three producers of maple syrup, ranking well behind Vermont and just a little behind New York State.
Although Vermont is the recognized leader among United State maple producers with a very strong brand identity and annual production that is more than double what Maine markets, Maine forests contain 50% more hard maple trees than Vermont forests based on US Forest Service inventories.
Far and away the largest producer in North America is the Province of Quebec, Maine’s neighbor for much of our northern and western borders.
It looked like an opportunity, but left me with this question -- Given our forest resources, a growing export market for maple products, and our relatively low production in relationship to the total inventory of hard maple trees, what could we do to better utilize this resource to create jobs and revenues for Maine people?
Other Maine producers -- potato farmers, blueberry growers, lobstermen -- have enjoyed thoughtful assistance from the state in marketing and product development that has led to superior product branding. I wondered if maple products could offer another such opportunity for our state.
Since there were too many questions that I couldn’t answer, I decided to propose a short-term study commission that would look at the information and determine if there was some value in making a major effort in this area.
Specifically, I am asking that a group of experts report back to the Legislature about: Potential for expanding both the harvesting and processing of maple sap for sugar; Obstacles to expanded production; Opportunities for enhancing a Maine Maple brand; Value Added Processing potential and its economic implications; Increased export marketing potential and its economic implications; Structures or network associations that could increase sustainable production; Potential competitive or collaborative opportunities with North America’s largest producer, Quebec, and; Investment or actions that could be taken by the state that would produce a tangible economic return.
We need jobs in Maine -- and in our part of Maine, the woods have provided an important livelihood for many families for generations. Anything we can do to help us grow a sustainable resource-based industry that could employ people in a variety of areas -- is something we should take a hard look at.
There have always been concerns expressed every time the state has invested resources in a particular area.
However, the results speak for themselves. Few would argue that some of our most important agricultural products -- whether it is potatoes or blueberries -- or others, have suffered as a result of the state’s investment of time and resources in marketing and market supports.
The purpose of this legislation is not to foster new regulations or new controls or to waste money -- it is just the opposite. I want this commission to look for ways to make it possible to make our forests even more productive through the renewable activity of tapping and harvesting the sap.
Maine’s maples may well be an “untapped resource” for sustainable growth in jobs, business revenues and tax revenues. In my opinion, the best way to find out is to get the right people around the table to talk about it -- and that is why the bill will create a study commission. At the end of the process, this study group will report back to the Legislature and if warranted -- I plan to work on a bill to support initiatives identified by the study commission.
So next time you pour the syrup on your pancakes -- think about the job potential for an industry that we can grow and that will create jobs and new investments in our economy. I hope the bill will pass, and we get some good insights from the work of the study commission it will create.