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For the second year, Acer grant boosts Indiana maple syrup industry

Once the biggest producer of maple syrup in the United States, Indiana is working to remind Hoosier residents of its ability to craft some of the best maple syrup in the country. 

A $500K grant from Acer Access and Development Program, the USDA funded program that supports states’, tribal governments’, and research institutions’ promotion of the domestic maple syrup industry, was awarded to Purdue University’s College of Agriculture in 2021. In partnership with the Indiana Maple Syrup Association, the grant’s focus has been on increasing consumption and production of maple syrup through an integrated marketing strategy over a three-year time span. 

Now in year two of the grant’s plan, Amy Thompson, Extension project manager for the grant, said much of the team’s work has been focused on researching consumer ideas and preferences related to forest management associated with maple syrup production, educating producers on invasive species management and general education for consumers on the history of maple syrup production in Indiana. Thompson said her Extension team has developed educational materials for consumers, helping consumers better understand the role Indiana’s maple syrup industry plays in the state’s agricultural system. 

Mo Zhou, associate professor of forest economics and management and principal investigator of the grant, said her team conducted two surveys in 2022 to assist in meeting Acer grant’s goals. Surveying over 200 producers across the state, Zhou’s team learned about their production practices, independent marketing and sales and sugarbush management and conditions.  

While her team is still working to process the data, Zhou said preliminary findings show that Indiana farm’s production sizes greatly vary. The team also identified that most Indiana maple syrup farmers’ sales are in-state, with most producers selling their products independently rather than in stores or through a partnership. Of the farms surveyed, Zhou said, less than half reported they did not manage their sugarbush. 

The second survey conducted by Zhou’s team was at the Indiana State Fair, receiving about 250 responses. The consumer survey’s goal was to identify buying behaviors among Indiana residents and overall knowledge of the maple syrup industry. 

“Similarly, the results are still preliminary, but we found that consumers are willing to pay a price premium for maple syrup produced from sustainably managed sugarbush,” Zhou said. “But the willingness to pay a premium price varies with how the syrup is eco-labeled.” 

Thompson's team is still making progress on marketing, working to promote the upcoming Maple Weekend celebrated each year across farms in Indiana through the annual Indiana Maple Syrup Weekend, with a kick-off maple syrup “toast” by Indiana Lieutenant Governor Suzanne Crouch at the Indiana Statehouse on March 8. 

For a full list of participating farms and events around the state, visit the Indiana Maple Syrup Weekend’s official website. 

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