Farmers are not traditionally “joiners.” Although they’ll rarely hesitate to share information and ideas with each other or help others when needed, there’s something about signing up as a member of an organization that somehow seems constricting, as if joining means some level of oversight that limits what they can do, or that it somehow tracks their activities.

Yet, there’s strength in numbers. Trade associations have a long history in agriculture in general, and in the maple industry in particular. The impact of these groups has been far greater than the sum of their collective parts, as they have worked to promote the products made by their members, provided resources to sugarmakers to help them produce the best products possible, and advocated for policies and regulations that have allowed the industry to thrive. Far from being constrictive, these organizations have helped their members grow their businesses in ways that they couldn’t have on their own.

State association offerings plentiful

State associations engage in various promotional activities, from joint marketing to promote the state’s syrup, to organizing maple weekend events to draw customers to sugarhouses. Most have online directories of members to help attract visitors, and many have booths at local fairs, produce cookbooks, and do other outreach to the public to promote maple products and help boost sales for local sugarmakers. The associations also provide educational services for their members, like newsletters and workshops, and work with state officials and agencies to ensure that agricultural, land use, and other policies and regulations are favorable for the industry. Many of the state associations also have signature programs that have been developed for their members.

The New York State Maple Producers Association organizes an annual conference in Verona, New York, each year that draws sugarmakers from the region for workshops and an enormous trade show.

Vermont’s network of county associations organize that state’s Maplerama each year, which features tours of sugarhouses.

The Massachusetts Maple Producers Association buys state-branded jugs and sells them to members at a reduced price as a member benefit. Other state associations have similar programs.

The Maple Syrup Producers Association of Connecticut offers a “Maple 101” course and publishes a Maple Syrup Producers Manual to help its members produce high-quality syrup.

The Lake Erie Maple Expo hosted every year by a number of groups, including the Pennsylvania Maple Producers Council, offers workshops and opportunities to talk with the industry’s leading researchers.

Each year the New Hampshire Maple Producers Association awards one of its members the Lawrence A. Carlisle Memorial Trophy for excellence in production of maple syrup.

The Maine Maple Producers Association has been coordinating Maine Maple Sunday for more than 30 years, an event during sugaring season when dozens of sugarhouses around the state are open to the public.

All of these associations rely on volunteer boards of directors to govern the organization, and some have paid staff who handle the day-to-day operations. The reasonable membership fees comes with a range of benefits, like newsletters, workshops, joint promotional campaigns, and – most importantly – connections with hundreds of other sugarmakers who want to share their ideas and experience to help improve the industry.

International association endeavors

Two international associations connect the industry more broadly: the North American Maple Syrup Council (NAMSC) and the International Maple Syrup Institute (IMSI).

NAMSC, founded in 1959, is a network of state and provincial associations, and “brings together industry leaders and affiliated groups to share common interests, experience and knowledge for the advancement and improvement of the maple syrup industry.” The Council publishes the Maple Syrup Digest, a quarterly publication highlighting current research and other issues of relevance to the industry, and administers a fund that gives grants each year to researchers working on projects to advance maple production techniques. The Council also advocates on behalf of the industry on relevant public policy issues, and serves as a central communications point for producers and other industry stakeholders to share ideas and resources.

Spurred by a surplus of syrup that exceeded demand, the IMSI was founded in 1975 as an international organization of processors, producers and government representatives developing a marketing strategy for the industry. The group’s stated mission is “to protect the integrity of pure maple syrup; to encourage more industry cooperation; and, to improve communication within the international maple syrup industry.” IMSI led the effort to revise and standardize the grading system for maple syrup, and has supported extensive research into the nutritional benefits of maple syrup. The group also does extensive work on marketing for the industry, as well as outreach and advocacy around issues of concern, such as lead in syrup and invasive species like the Asian Longhorned Beetle.

NAMSC and IMSI hold annual meetings together each year, rotating through the maple-producing states and provinces as hosts. This year’s gathering is in October in Seven Springs, Pennsylvania. Along with the annual meetings of the two organizations, industry researchers will make technical presentations on their work, the organizations will host workshops on marketing and making value-added products, and the annual syrup, cream, candy and photography contests will be held. Attendees also can socialize, visit the trade show, and enjoy the annual banquet together. Visit http://www.namsc.org.

Maple syrup industry trade associations

Maple Syrup Producers Association of Connecticut http://www.ctmaple.org/

Maine Maple Producers Association http://www.mainemapleproducers.com/

Massachusetts Maple Producers Association http://massmaple.org/

New Hampshire Maple Producers Association http://www.nhmapleproducers.com/

New York State Maple Association http://www.nysmaple.com/

Pennsylvania Maple Producers Council http://www.pamapleassociation.com/

Rhode Island Maple Producers Association unclebck@aol.com

Vermont Maple Sugar Makers Association http://vermontmaple.org/

North American Maple Syrup Council http://www.namsc.org

International Maple Syrup Institute http://www.internationalmaplesyrupinstitute.com