Dylan J. Baker

Staff Writer

MANCHESTER- A change to Vermont's maple grading system is coming.

The change is not related to how the maple syrup is made, but how it will be marketed and what it will be called. The changes have been proposed to align the Vermont grading system with the standard recommended by the International Maple Syrup Institute.

The final version of the proposed changes were approved by the board of directors of the International Maple Syrup Institute (IMSI), an organization which has represented from 12 United State maple producing states and four Canadian Provinces. This final version of the proposal was submitted by the Vermont Maple Industry Council to the IMSI and adopted in October 2009.

As of right now Vermont, among other states, has names for grades of maple syrup that differ from the IMSI standard. For example, Vermont's most famous maple syrup is called "Vermont Fancy." The name would change to Grade A Golden Delicate Taste and that means the bottles that the maple syrup is sold in will have to be labeled as such.

Doug Zecher, owner of Havoc Hill Sugarhouse in East Dorset, said he is starting to understand how the change might help out the maple syrup industry as a whole.

"At first I was opposed to it, but I personally think it is important now to be on the same sheet of music," he said. "I think it's a good thing using the same language and it will help the market a great deal."

Zecher continued to say, "Vermont should be the leader on this issue, not a follower. New York and New Hampshire are close to adopting the same changes, but they are waiting to see what Vermont does first. We are the leaders, we make the best."

However, Zecher is worried that Vermont maple syrup might be losing some of its identity, but the fact that they can throw another label on the bottle that still says "Vermont Fancy" will help the transition.

The board of directors of the Vermont Maple Sugar Markers Association (VMSMA) made it possible for the local maple sugar producers to be able to place a sticker or some sort of label that still informs people that this is "Vermont Fancy" and that it just goes by a different name now, making this transition as easy as possible, said Henry Marckres of the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets, and the change has nothing to do with how Vermont maple syrup is created.

This is an important issue, said Marckres, because Vermont's maple syrup is different from any other maple syrup in not just the country, but the entire world and Vermont is the largest producer of pure maple syrup in the United States.

According to the VMSMA website, maple syrup is measured by density with a unit called "brix." The standard for most of the world is 66 degrees brix, while Vermont has the ability to range anywhere from 66.9 to 68.9 degrees brix. Brix refers to the density of a liquid in relation to that of pure water. Each degree brix is equivalent to one gram of sugar per 100 grams of maple syrup.

The other major change that will effect Vermonters the most involves the Commercial Grade maple syrup, which presently is not legally able to be sold in retail containers. The change will be called Grade A Very Dark Strong Taste. This will provide producers the ability to command a higher price for syrup that is only legally sold as commercial grade in bulk containers.

All of the proposed grades are as follows: Grade A Golden Delicate taste, Grade A Amber Rich taste, Grade A Dark Robust taste, and Grade A Very Dark Strong taste.

Public hearings have been held throughout the week to give locals an opportunity to discuss their opinions.

Lynn Coale, director of the Hannaford Career Development Center and a member of the Agriculture and Forest Development Board, acted as moderator for the first public hearing on Tuesday in Middlebury and estimated that over 60 people attended the hearing and that there was definitely a lot of mixed emotions on the matter.

"What happened was there were really two sides, one side supports the Vermont maple heritage," said Coale. "They wanted to leave things as they are and believe the rest of the world should adopt our standards."

The other side of the equation had people believing that this will only help create a strong economy of the state of Vermont, he said.

Coale also said that he noticed both sides were respectful of each other even though there was a lot of passion on the topic and that both sides were open to compromise, which is ultimately what everyone wanted, said Coale.

For more information, contact Henry Marckres at the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food, and Markets at 802-828-3458