Sugarmakers sign up for voluntary certification program

Published: Feb. 15, 2023 at 4:37 PM EST
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EAST BERKSHIRE, Vt. (WCAX) - The warm weather this week -- combined with freezing nights -- has many local sugarmakers busy. It comes as some producers are looking to become certified as part of a new industry-led effort that began last year.

The sap is flowing at Ox Pasture Maple in East Berkshire and they are ready for a boil. But this year, Pam Greene is adopting some new standards in the sugarhouse. “To be one of the first folks to be certified,” Greene said.

The certification through the Vermont Maple Sugarmakers Association was launched last year. It sets high quality, safety, and other best practice standards for Vermont’s maple industry. Standards that many sugarmakers were already following. “it means that we are looking to the future and to the next generation of the family who will continue the sugaring tradition,” Greene said. She says gaining certification only took some tweaks to their operation -- a hand washing station inside the sugarhouse and food-grade PVC piping. It’s not required of sugarmakers, but Greene sees the future of maple involving more set standards. “There is no doubt in my mind that at some point, the packers, the bulk buyers of maple, will require some kind of certification.”

Those bulk packers make up 85% of Vermont maple syrup purchases. Because of that, Greene is glad a sugarmaker-led approach is being rolled out before it’s required, strengthening Vermont’s position in the growing global marketplace.

“We all -- as an industry -- trade on the Vermont brand and the quality that we are known for,” said the association’s Allison Hope. She says certification requires inspection and comes with the opportunity to access new federal grants to upgrade everything from piping to sugarhouse floors. “Once we have a critical mass of sugarmakers that are certified, we can turn around and market that to consumers and make it really clear that this is a piece of it we take very seriously and we have the program to back it up.” Certification starts at $100 for small producers and varies based on tap count.

“Maple is just growing. It’s growing globally and we now find we are in the global food market, and that market requires some kind of assurance,” Greene said.

As for how the season is going to turn out, Greene says you can ask her in May.

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