Regional partnership awarded grant for maple syrup
OAKLAND, Md. — A regional partnership that includes Garrett County recently received a USDA grant of nearly $500,000 to grow maple syrup production in Maryland and the Virginias.
The county’s economic development department, along with Virginia Tech, Future Generations University in West Virginia and Appalachian Sustainable Development, a nonprofit, was awarded the grant in late November. The money will help the partnership expand syrup production in the region so producers can more easily access potentially lucrative southern markets.
“A lot of farmers are not tapping as many trees as they could,” said Cheryl DeBerry, Garrett County’s natural resources business specialist. “I’m hoping that this project will either get more farmers into tapping trees and making syrup or have the current farmers expand more to be able to supply these bigger markets.”
Maple syrup production has been steadily rising in the region for the last two decades. Production in Maryland, the region’s smallest producer, rose nearly 60 percent to 3,833 gallons from 2012 to 2017, according to USDA data. The number of syrup farms in the state jumped from 12 to 28.
In West Virginia, the number of maple taps soared from 21,000 in 2002 to about 75,000 in 2017 — and just 1 percent of the state’s maples were tapped. Regional governments have been looking at maple syrup — among other farm commodities — as an important growth opportunity for their increasingly vulnerable rural economies. West Virginia’s state government has heavily promoted its rising number of syrup producers for several years.
In Garrett County, home to most of Maryland’s production, many producers currently barrel their syrup and sell it to large companies in the Northeast, getting the lowest possible price, DeBerry said. Garrett would like to claw back some of that product and have producers either bottle and retail it for the highest price or move it to wholesalers in the region and Southern markets such as Georgia and the Carolinas.
“The western counties of the state have significant potential for maple syrup production and enterprise,” said Steve Connelly, assistant secretary at the Maryland Department of Agriculture, in a statement. “Garrett County has a very old sugaring history with family farms that have been making syrup for generations.”
Since receiving the grant, the partnership, headed by Future Generations in northeastern West Virginia, has begun the process of collecting data to determine demand for the product regionwide, DeBerry said, a process that includes surveying local retailers and wholesalers. The partnership is also looking at possibly developing a regionwide syrup brand that could be used to move more product as well.
Future Generations has been researching issues such as the timing of tapping in West Virginia, the effects of forest management on sap yields and the potential of producing syrup from sycamore, walnut and birch trees. It also offers certificate courses in production.
Appalachian Sustainable Development in Bristol, Va., is dedicated to reshaping the region’s economy and the health of its residents by supporting local agriculture.
The USDA’s Acer Access and Development Program, which supports the nation’s maple syrup industry, awarded the grant. The program gives money to state, tribal governments and research institutions across the country.