AUGUSTA, Maine — Gov. Paul LePage said Wednesday that Maine’s maple syrup industry could become a national leader if more people understood that there is substantial money to be made from one of Maine’s most abundant natural resources.
“This is an industry that Maine could be leading America in,” said LePage after ceremonially tapping a maple tree on the Blaine House lawn to kick off the sugaring season. “We have the trees and the resources. It’s a matter of getting more people involved in the industry.”
Maine’s 450 sap harvesters produced 450,000 gallons of syrup last year worth nearly $24 million. That ranks Maine third in the country in syrup production behind Vermont and New York, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service. Vermont is by far the production leader with some 1.3 million gallons produced in 2013, but LePage said Maine can compete.
“Not only could we compete with Vermont, we could compete with Quebec, which is the real big heavy hitter in this game,” said LePage, who was involved in syrup production himself years ago. “We could surpass them easily and we have the forests to do it. We just need awareness and for people to understand that you can make money at it. I’ve been working with the tribes and they have about 150,000 acres and a lot of maple trees. They could be a major, major player if they could get into the business, which we’re encouraging them to do.”
There are a handful of measures pending in the Legislature that seek to bolster the industry, one of which involves a task force that is looking for expansion opportunities. That group’s report is due in January 2015.
A new study by University of Maine Economics Professor Todd Gabe, which was done in partnership with the university, the Department of Agriculture and the Maine Maple Producers Association, showed that the syrup industry contributes nearly $49 million to Maine’s economy and supports more than 800 jobs.