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How Quebec's Maple Syrup Stockpile Can Impact An Entire Global Industry


The most expensive commodity on your breakfast table is probably not the heirloom pork or the artisanal coffee or even the free-range eggs. It is probably the maple syrup. Ounce for ounce, maple syrup is worth more than oil. It's worth so much that the Canadian province of Quebec has its own strategic reserve of the stuff like a Fort Knox for maple syrup spread out over three separate sites.

Vermont Public Radio's Jane Lindholm joined Stacey Vanek Smith of our Planet Money Indicator team recently and took a visit to the reserve. They bring us this story of how a delicious stockpile can impact an entire global industry.


JANE LINDHOLM, BYLINE: My home state of Vermont really likes to play up its role as the United States' largest producer of maple syrup. Stacey, we made about 20 million pounds of syrup in 2018.

STACEY VANEK SMITH, BYLINE: That is just nothing compared to Vermont's neighbor to the north, Quebec, because that one Canadian province alone made 118 million pounds of maple syrup in 2018. That is more than 70 percent of the entire world's supply.

LINDHOLM: And it's so important to Canada that there's actually a global strategic reserve. It's full of barrels upon barrels of maple syrup. I actually went to go see what it looks like. I popped up over the border and went to this small town called Laurierville.

CAROLINE CYR: (Speaking French).

LINDHOLM: That's Caroline Cyr. She works on the communications team for the Maple Syrup Producers of Quebec, and she took me on the path a barrel of syrup takes through the warehouse.

CYR: Here we are in the space where the producers can deliver their maple syrup in barrels. There's big squares on the floor. Those are scales because we need to weigh every barrel.

VANEK SMITH: So in Quebec, anyone who wants to sell in bulk has to contribute a portion of their finished maple syrup to this reserve. And they don't get paid for it, at least not right away.

LINDHOLM: So why would any farmer agree to wait to get paid for their product - because the global strategic reserve is actually a way to guarantee that high, high price for maple syrup by removing - totally removing the natural boom-and-bust cycle that would otherwise happen for an agricultural commodity. So in 2004, the Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers created a quota system controlling production. And then they created this global strategic reserve to make sure that the supply never runs dry.

VANEK SMITH: The producers are pretty much reaping the rewards of a system that keeps the price high and, you know, makes their business a lot more predictable. And Cyr says exports have hit records every year for the last five or six years. And most of that syrup is going to one place in particular.

CYR: For sure it's your country (laughter) - United States. We send 62 percent of our maple syrup exportation to your country, so thank you.

LINDHOLM: But it's not totally flawless. In 2008, the reserve went totally dry. They just kept selling out of the reserve, and there was suddenly no more syrup. And so that sent the federation into total panic mode, and they released more of these licenses in 2009. Global demand has continued to increase, so they gave out another round in 2016 for about 5 million new taps. And Stacey, the total amount in the reserve is worth 280 million Canadian dollars. That's more than 200 million U.S. dollars.

VANEK SMITH: That's an incredible amount of money.

LINDHOLM: Jane Lindholm.

VANEK SMITH: Stacey Vanek Smith, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Stacey Vanek Smith is the co-host of NPR's The Indicator from Planet Money. She's also a correspondent for Planet Money, where she covers business and economics. In this role, Smith has followed economic stories down the muddy back roads of Oklahoma to buy 100 barrels of oil; she's traveled to Pune, India, to track down the man who pitched the country's dramatic currency devaluation to the prime minister; and she's spoken with a North Korean woman who made a small fortune smuggling artificial sweetener in from China.
Jane Lindholm is the host, executive producer, and creator of But Why: A Podcast For Curious Kids. Until March 2021, she was the host of the award-winning Vermont Public Radio program Vermont Edition.