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Syrup changes prove to be sticky issue - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Syrup changes prove to be sticky issue

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MIDDLEBURY, Vt. -

Maple Syrup is sweet business for Vermont but proposed changes are creating a sticky situation for officials.

Tuesday evening, Agriculture Department spokespeople met with maple producers to sell them on changes they say could help tap greater economic opportunities.

Whether they prefer 'Dark Amber' or 'Fancy,' Vermonters enjoy the taste of a wide variety of maple syrup. But soon, their favorite blend may go by another name, as states and Canadian provinces debate a standardized rating system.

Many smaller producers from Southern Vermont say they're not sold. "I think we're going to lose our identity," said Tom Olson of the New England Maple Museum.

Olson says he's worried that customers won't know what they're buying. He adds that standardizing definitions could hurt the prestige currently enjoyed by Vermont producers - who account for nearly 40 percent of the national market. "We're going to completely lose control over the high quality syrup that we have here," he said.

State experts argue the move will make the state more competitive in the international market though - an area dominated by Canada and more specifically Quebec.

Dave Folino with Hillsboro Sugarworks says all of their syrup is sold in state, but that hasn't stopped him from generally supporting the rating changes. "We need to harmonize the grade names so that the buyers know what they're getting and they know how to compare equally," he said.

Folino says he does have concerns though. He says Vermont will need to maintain some of its unique qualities to avoid the fate suffered by dairy farmers when milk became a commodity.

State officials say Vermont producers will still be able to use the "fancy" label beside the new standardized description of "golden color delicate taste." They'll also be able to retail syrups previously only available for commercial purchasers.

The state will still demand higher standards than other states and provinces, but sides differ on whether what's on the inside will be enough to maintain the value of the label on the outside.

The South Woodstock Fire Station will host a similar meeting Wednesday as will Hyde Park's Lamoille Union Tech Center Thursday. Both meetings are scheduled to begin at seven p.m. Officials say the gatherings are just an initial chance to weigh-in, and not the final opportunity.

The agriculture agency could change the labels on its own or may send the issue to the legislature.

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