On Friday, news broke that thieves had stolen $30 million dollars worth of Quebec's strategic maple syrup reserves. Much as the United States keeps a stock of extra oil buried in underground salt caverns to use in case of a geopolitical emergency, the Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers has been managing warehouses full of surplus sweetener since 2000. The crooks seem to have made off with more than a quarter of the province's backup supply. (I personally suspect these guys.)
Why exactly does Canada need to stockpile syrup? To find out, I called up Michael Farrell, an extension associate at Cornell University's College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, and an expert in all things maple.
"We think of it as a little cottage industry here in the states," he told me. "But up there [syrup is] a big industry that's responsible for a lot of people's livelihoods."
Canada took over from the United States as the world's leader in syrup in the 1940s, as shown in this graph from a paper Farrell co-authored last year. Today, Quebec taps 75 percent of the world's supply, and its producers have been attempting to grow their market abroad. Shipments to Japan, for instance, rose 252 percent between 2000 and 2005.