Our 10-year vision is to transform Aotearoa New Zealand into a tree syrup producer and exporter by establishing several large, intensively-managed row-crop style plantations. This method reduces the latency period between planting trees and first harvest, while maximising sap yield. In addition, the syrup will be produced using an energy and cost efficient sap-to-syrup process.
For example, a 2,000-hectare maple sapling plantation in the South Island, is projected to produce six million litres of syrup annually, at $10/L wholesale, worth $60 million/year in export revenues annually. Such potential returns from a tree syrup industry in Aotearoa New Zealand could exceed ten times the returns of a harvested radiata pine plantation.
Where is the Market?
Recognising the dominance of US and Canadian maple syrup industries, there is no intention to export NZ-produced syrup to North America.
There is significant potential closer to home for sales and export earnings growth in Asia, where New Zealand food products sell at a premium due to their trusted food safety standards and green reputation. For maple syrup, 2019 imports into Japan were $24 million, while imports into China grew 56% annually from 2012-2016. The birch syrup market is smaller, but birch syrup sells for 3-4 times the price, and syrups derived from indigenous Aotearoa New Zealand species are an entirely new product opportunity.
While maple syrup production will be limited to New Zealand's colder regions, birch and other syrups derived from indigenous varieties, might allow for the establishment of a nationwide industry.
Groups with interests in developing a tree syrup industry in Aotearoa New Zealand include landowners, researchers, companies in the supply chain and government agencies (central, regional and local). Throughout this research programme, we are aiming to initiate a collective of interested groups and individuals to explore and address challenges concerning the feasibility and impact of commercial development of a tree syrup industry in Aotearoa New Zealand.
Benefits could accrue from the entire supply chain: saplings, tubing, connectors, vacuum harvesting equipment, processing and packaging plant, syrup packaging consumables for export, and seasonal and permanent job opportunities.
The research project's goal is to de-risk investment into a new-to-New Zealand tree syrup industry. This aligns with the Ministry for Primary Industry's primary sector roadmap and land use change report by creating an opportunity for a new domestic industry producing high-value export products. And while this project is not directly aligned with the transition to a low-emissions economy, the sheer number of trees used in a large scale commercial tree syrup operation have potential to be used for significant carbon offsets. Additional spill-over benefits include removing atmospheric carbon dioxide, the potential use of a plantation as a riparian buffer, while tree sap production represents an alternative use for marginal land, including south-facing slopes.