In May Maine's Legislature passed emergency legislation "To Study the Promotion and Expansion of the Maine Maple Sugar Industry." Last month the Maine Maple Syrup Study Commission held its first official meeting.

The members of the commission represent producers from across the state, ranging from those with fewer than 200 taps to those with more than 44,000. In addition to staff from the Department of Agriculture, other agencies involved with the commission are the departments of Conservation and Economic and Community Development, the Office of Tourism and the Finance Authority of Maine. The group has been tasked with creating a strong brand for Maine maple sugar products, increasing value-added processing, and expanding current export markets and developing new markets.

Maine Department of Agriculture Commissioner Walter Whitcomb appointed the commission's 11 members, including the chair, Representative Russell Black, District 90, from Wilton, a farmer and maple sugar producer.

Other members include Kevin Brannen, Smyrna, a producer of maple sugar products in Aroostook County; Stephen Coleman, Dennistown, representing a statewide forest-products industry organization; Eric Ellis, Madison, representing the statewide association of producers of Maine maple sugar products; Kathy Hopkins, Skowhegan, representing the University of Maine Cooperative Extension; Roger Jackson, Oxford, a producer of maple sugar products with 1,000 or fewer taps; Maryanne Kinney, Knox, representing a statewide farming association with a committee actively involved with maple sugar products; Arnold Luce, Anson, a producer of maple sugar products with more than 5,000 taps; Lyle Merrifield, Gorham, representing a regional association of producers of maple sugar products in southern Maine; Claude Rodrigue, Jackman, representing an association of producers of maple sugar products in Somerset County; and Joe Suga, Vassalboro, representing a statewide organization of small woodlot owners.

The study commission will be meeting over the next six months to produce a report for submission to the Legislature's Joint Standing Committee on Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry by December 7. They will be looking at Maine's forest policies, agricultural marketing challenges, state/natural resources regulatory reform, and other efficiencies that could serve to improve Maine's maple industry.

Maine is currently the nation's third largest producer of maple syrup. Vermont leads the nation, producing about 1.14 million gallons, followed by New York.