New Zealand could have commercially successful maple syrup industry - researchers

New Zealand could soon be producing the Southern Hemisphere's only maple syrup.

It was previously thought our climate was too warm, but a maple syrup pioneer backed by some researchers has found it is economically feasible.

Three decades ago, Nelson man Dave DeGray started planting maple trees - and his sap's now coming faster and in better quality than in parts of Canada.

His block of 225 sugar maple trees is far bigger than any other in the country. And he could have more than just the New Zealand record.

Conventional wisdom says it's not cold enough to make maple syrup anywhere in the Southern Hemisphere - that's why almost all of it comes from the United States and Canada.

But DeGray gave it a go anyway, planting these in Nelson 33 years ago.

"This is about the only block in the Southern Hemisphere, that I know of," he says.

"I've had Canadians come here and they just can't believe it, they estimate the trees to be 120-130 years, according to size," he says.

Now researchers at the University of Canterbury have found a commercial operation could make money here in cold places like Otago and south Canterbury.

A new production method has cut the time required between planting and the first possible harvest from 25 years to as little as three years - and boosted the returns to around $17,000 per hectare.

"The projections are that you can get 3500 litres of syrup per hectare and that equates at a wholesale price of $5 per litre of around $17,000 per hectare," says Matthew Watson, Associate Professor at University of Canterbury.

"The yield that you can get per hectare is substantially higher than what you get from the traditional forestry method, and it happens at a time of year when there is very little else going on in terms of agricultural or horticultural work in New Zealand."

And if DeGray's maples are anything to go by, our sap might even be better than Canada's.

"The lighter the syrup, the higher the grade," DeGray says.

Watson and his PhD student Tenaya were the first people in the world to 3D model the inside of a maple trunk and they're now in talks with several landowners interested in becoming New Zealand's first maple syrup producer.

"And then you know take it from New Zealand to markets in Asia where we tend to do very well exporting high-quality natural products," Watson says.

It won't be DeGray though - he gives most of his syrup away.

"[I have] a lot of visits from sons and daughters on Sunday about pancake time or pikelet time, it works well," he says.

His maple experiment's worked so well he might also soon have visits from our first maple syrup farmers.