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October 15, 2012

Vermont Maple Syrup Gradings to Change: a Sticky Situation

Ice cream with syrupIt’s no secret: Vermonters are fanatic about maple syrup. We drizzle it over our pancakes and smoked bacon, have it in our creemees and candy, brew it with our beer; we flavor our lives with this sweet, sticky substance. 

 The Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets, in partnership with the Vermont Sugarmakers Association and UVM Extension, will hold three public meetings seeking comments on the proposed changes to the maple grading system.

Currently, the U.S. and Canada are the largest maple-producing countries in the world, and have completely different grading systems. In Vermont, an entirely separate grading system is in place. For example, “Fancy,” “Grade A Dark Amber” and “Grade B” syrup only exist in the Green Mountain State’s markets.

The proposed changes aim to streamline a variety of grading jargon into a new set of consistent international standards. “Vermont fancy” would be replaced with “Grade A Golden Delicate Taste.” The other grades would undergo a transformation as well: 

  • “Grade A Medium Amber” would become “Grade A Amber Rich Taste”
  • “Grade A Dark Amber” would become “Grade A Dark Robust Taste”
  • “Grade B,” or “Commercial Grade,” would become “Grade A Very Dark Strong Taste”

This proposal is causing controversy within the sugaring community. Some see it as a positive transition that will provide clarity to consumers. Others see it as a way to dull the distinction of a Vermont syrup.

Bruce Taft, of Taft’s Milk and Maple Farm in Huntington, is dismayed at the thought of changes to the grading system. “My father was a sugarmaker, my grandfather was a sugarmaker, this is what we do; we’ve been tapping the same trees for years,” he says. “Vermont has a unique standard in the maple industry and I will be sad to see it go. Why do we have to lose the standard we’ve had for years?”

Some believe the adjustment to a universal grading system is fine, but disagree with the new lingo. Dick Wilcox of Amber Ridge Maple in Underhill says, “Everybody wants simplicity, and isn’t that the goal of the changes? If you want to provide less confusion for consumers, make the new grading names less lengthy and drawn out — it’s too much like reading a novel.”

When asked if consumers will still seek out maple syrup from Vermont despite a single, international grading system, Wilcox thinks yes. “They are looking at where the syrup is coming from, not the elaborate verbiage on the bottle,” he says.

Henry Marckes, the Vermont ag agency maple specialist, holds a unique position in the debate. “As a person who has been on the committee for 10 years, I can understand the proposal. But, also as a native Vermonter, I can understand why we don’t want to lose our “fancy,” Marckes explains.

“The ‘fancy’ title will still be allowed to get slapped on a bottle of maple syrup. In fact, I would make it the biggest word on there," Marckes continues. "It just wouldn’t be the actual grade of the product. The density standards are going to stay the same, meaning the sugar concentration will still be higher than [in] products from other states.

“To be honest, I am neutral on the issue. The Agency of Agriculture wants the public’s opinion on this before any changes are made. That is why we are holding these meetings across the state,” says Marckes. “I expect a big turnout and am excited to hear what Vermonters have to say.”

To get the complete run-down on the issue and make your maple-loving Vermonter voice heard, head to one of this week’s meetings.

Dates and locations are as follows:

• Tuesday, October 16: Middlebury American Legion Post 27, 49 Wilson Road, Middlebury

• Wednesday, October 17: South Woodstock Fire Station, Rt. 106, South Woodstock

• Thursday, October 18: Lamoille Union Tech Center, Rt. 15, Hyde Park

The meetings will begin promptly at 7 p.m. and will include a presentation and discussion to follow.


Photo courtesy of Vermont Maple Sugar Makers Association

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