Maple growers taken hostage by Domtar paper company

Maple growers ‘taken hostage’ by Domtar paper company.

Six months after Domtar fell under the control of a billionaire Indonesian family, maple syrup producers feel “held hostage” by the paper company, which is reluctant to allow them to cut down trees in time for sugar.

“It has stalled for two years. Domtar delayed. We have the impression that they use our producers as a bargaining chip. They feel like hostages,” says Jonathan Blais, President of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers (PPAQ) in Estrie.

In recent years, maple syrup producers have been offered a silver platter to tap Domtar sugar maple trees under agreements.

As inflation skyrocketed, this new source of income was seen as a balm to help them breathe through this difficult time.

Despite those promises, dozens of maple syrup producers still can’t tap these trees because, according to the union, Domtar would let them languish.

“They have signed formal letters of intent, but the doors are still padlocked. It keeps the world stressed,” denounces Mr Blais.

For the past two years, Domtar has been owned by British Columbia-based Paper Excellence, controlled by the wealthy Asian Widjaja family.

Today, Paper Excellence is the country’s largest pulp producer, according to Greenpeace, which denounced it in a report last October.

Over $150,000 is at stake

In recent days, however, maple producers Le Journal has been able to speak to have said they fear they have wasted time and money. They still refused to go to war against Domtar, preferring to have a good dialogue with him.

“I’ve invested a good $150,000 in equipment. I don’t want to lose my investment because Domtar has always been good,” said Louis-Philippe Pépin, owner of Érablière de la Montagne FB Inc. in Estrie.

The producer, like other hoses, acquired a pumping station, a forestry engineer to prepare the soil, but everything is at a standstill.

“We’ve always had a good deal with Domtar, but this time we’re still awaiting our promised 3,000 taps with revenue of $35,000 per year. We want this to be overturned,” shared David Dostie, owner of Érablière Saint-Robert, who had testified to La Terre de chez nous.

“Perhaps dozens of us who are in the same situation are waiting. We want to work with them,” summarizes Dave Roy, owner of Érablière Dave et Cindy, in Saint-Martin.

Domtar fights back

When asked by Le Journal, Domtar said it was in talks with the Quebec Maple Syrup Producers (PPAQ).

“These talks are constructive and the affected maple syrup producers were informed before Christmas. A meeting is already planned [vendredi, hier]. Another meeting is also scheduled for January 19,” said Éric Lapointe, Superintendent of Private Lands and Forestry Operations at Domtar, via email.

“More than 140,000 taps have already been found on Domtar’s land and we hope to use the PPAQ to find solutions to confidently continue maple development on Domtar’s private lands,” he concluded.

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