a tree with snow on the ground

Q&A: Bascom Maple Farm discusses a low-sugar year

Arnold Coombs, a seventh generation maple farmer, recently wrote to retailers about a strain in maple production this year and speaks with Store Brands about the rare conditions.
Dan Ochwat
Executive Editor
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In a crop report sent out to retailers, Arnold Coombs, director of sales and marketing, Bascom Maple Farm and Coombs Family Farms, detailed a disappointing time for sugarmakers with the sugar content of the sap being down in most regions, leading to lower production levels.

He cited an example of a friend’s farm in northern Vermont that taps about 22,000 trees and pulled the same number of gallons of sap this year as last year, but it only produced 72% of the amount of maple syrup as last years. Coombs said sugar content of the sap was lower, and it could be caused by drought conditions last summer as well as a big seed production year can zap energy from the trees.

a person that is standing in the snow
Arnold Coombs

On the company’s New Hampshire farm, they tapped 106,000 trees and had 95% of its syrup made between March 10 and April 9, a short season. Coombs, a seventh generation maple farmer, talked with Store Brands about the challenges ahead in the category. 

Store Brands: Tell me a bit about the company and the maple industry?
Arnold Coombs: Bascom Maple Farms is a leading independent supplier of pure and organic maple syrup and sugar in the United States. It was back in 1853 that the Bascom family first tapped the sugar maples found on their small family farm. Beginning by making maple sugar, the Bascoms followed the industry trend to move towards maple syrup at the turn of the century. The farm has been passed down for eight generations, each generation sharing their passion for maple and maple sugaring knowledge onto the next. Since then, the Bascom family has been acting as responsible stewards of the forest, following a sustainable approach to agriculture. 

Bascom Maple Farms is a packer and producer of pure and organic maple syrup and maple sugar, in a variety of formats and SKUS from the farm and facility in New England. In addition to ingredient sales, Bascom Maple Farms provides private label maple syrup and maple sugar products and ingredient sales to some of the country’s largest retailers and brands. 

SB: In addition to your report, the USDA NASS released a crop production report that showed maple was a hard-hit crop, what have you seen?
AC: The USDA NASS 2021 crop report for maple is pretty consistent with our farmer survey and what we're seeing in the industry. The 2021 crop was a disappointment for nearly all sugarmakers, after a 10-year run of bumper crops, and huge demand for maple, as a smarter sweetener and key flavor for fall and the holiday season. Farmers across New England and throughout the Northeast didn't have the weather and ideal conditions for producing maple. Maple production requires sunny days, cold nights, and a specific amount of snowfall for best tapping. Mother Nature didn't provide that. 

SB: That’s quite a difference in a decade.
AC: After ten years of nearly record production, the crop was lacking. This could completely be an anomaly. We could be swimming in syrup next year. The demand for pure and organic maple is certainly still strong. 

SB: How has this impacted private brands specifically? 
AC: Some customers have had to change their SKU mix to fit what the crop produced and what Mother Nature gave us. For some brands and retailers, it's an easy switch between one variation of Grade A to another. For others with very specific grades and flavor profiles, they may have to wait it out. It could be an opportunity for research and development, particularly for those products usually made with lighter syrups.

SB: How are farmers faring amid this shortage?
AC: Fortunately, farmers are coming out OK and are able to get a higher price for their crop. Although supply is tight, at Bascom Maple Farm we pay up front and in full for syrup, and value our longstanding relationships with farm families. And because Bascom Maple Farms believes in a healthy and sustainable independent maple sugaring industry, we work to support it. That’s why we’re also the largest U.S. distributor of maple syrup equipment to maple farmers. We've known some of these farm families for several generations. 

SB: What can private label retailers and suppliers do in the meantime to weather the storm?
AC: It's important to stay the course knowing that demand for pure and organic maple remains at an all-time high and that the next crop could be prolific. Maple is a key ingredient in both savory and sweet products, from baked goods and beer to cereals, sauces and meats. It's a wholesome, nostalgic sweetener that's not going away any time soon.

SB: What is Bascom Family Farms doing to make sure private label items are getting stocked or working through the issue?
AC: We're working closely with our farmers and staying in communication with our customers, making sure everyone is informed. We're delighted to be holding our annual Open House this fall, after two years of pausing, and will be back at it with market research, industry overview, and training all about maple. We'll learn a lot from our farmers and customers, too.

SB: In the short term, how do you see things improving, declining in the months ahead? 
AC: We’re doing everything we can to navigate pandemic realities such as increased costs for freight, packaging, and other logistical elements due to COVID-19. It’s been a long haul, and at the same time, it’s been wonderful to see so many families having breakfast together and baking at home with maple. We’re getting back on track and I’m optimistic that things will balance out.