Coronavirus deals “catastrophic” blow to maple syrup producers

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MONTREAL –
Under a dazzling sky, with spring in the air, the syrup flows into a sugar bush near the village of Saint-Alexis.

With a mallet in hand, feet clenched in the deep snow, Simon Lanoue drives plastic tubes into one tree after another to drain their sap, weaving a vast spider web in the forest.

While the sweet liquid flows slowly from the trees, Lanoue deplores its losses due to the measures taken by the province of Quebec to slow the spread of the new coronavirus.

“For me, this represents a shortfall between $ 80,000 and $ 100,000,” he said.

Quebec has ordered all residents to stay at home, except for essential tasks, closed restaurants and even limited travel within the province.

The 140-seat dining room in the Osias de Lanoue sugar shack, located in an old barn about 60 kilometers north of Montreal, is deserted.

At weekends at this time of year, diners generally rotate indoors and outdoors every two hours.

Lanoue had to close his dining room in mid-March, just two weeks after the “maple sugar period” began.

An annual tradition that continues until the end of April, Quebecers and visitors flock to rustic sugar shacks to enjoy spicy sausages, sticky baked beans, fluffy omelets and the ears of Christ fried pork) – all covered with golden maple syrup.

It is topped with a “maple taffy” dessert, made of thick hot syrup spread over the snow and wrapped around a popsicle stick.

Usually, “catering represents 75 to 80%” of revenues, but this year Lanoue will have to be content with the sale of its syrup “, which does not represent much.”

“But there are cabins in worse condition than mine,” he said.

“Catastrophic situation”

A similar scenario is played out in the neighboring village of Saint-Esprit, at the Constantin Grégoire sugar shack.

“It’s usually full everywhere,” says owner Denise Gregoire in one of the three large dining rooms, where moose antlers hang over a large fireplace.

“On March 15, we closed our doors, and we will not be able to reopen this year, it will go next year,” said Grégoire, who had to fire about 20 employees.

Nevertheless, Jacqueline, a client, wants to come “to buy maple syrup, like every year. Usually we come to eat at the cottage. But this year, because of the virus, it is not possible. “

There are more than 200 of these so-called “commercial” chalets in Quebec, explains Hélène Normandin, spokesperson for the federation of Quebec maple syrup producers.

“It’s a catastrophic situation,” she said. “This year 2020 is completely lost for (the owners). “

But COVID-19 or not, syrup production continues, as the industry has been designated “essential” by the provincial government.

Canada produces 92% of the world’s maple syrup, mainly from Quebec (72%), the rest from the United States’ border states.

Quebec has more than 11,000 producers grouped into 7,400 businesses, most of them artisanal, which contribute up to $ 600 million annually to the local economy, supporting the equivalent of 10,500 full-time jobs.

Quebec had a record season last year, harvesting more than 72,000 tonnes of syrup, 80% of which was exported to 60 countries. The United States, Germany and Great Britain are the largest foreign buyers.

The current season promises to be “normal”, according to Normandin, projecting a slightly more modest harvest.

“I think we’re going to have a good year, and the syrup is once again excellent,” says Lanoue.

And no shortage is anticipated, the federation retaining a strategic reserve “golden blonde” to ensure price stability: more than 45,000 tonnes of syrup stored in barrels in a locked warehouse of five football fields.

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