Steelman: Hardwood check off
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BY BRUCE STEELMAN

"Beef: It's what's for dinner" and "Got milk?" are familiar phrases to most of us. In the future, catchy phrases promoting hardwood products might be just as well known.

The United States Department of Agriculture has published a proposal for a Hardwood Lumber and Hardwood Plywood Promotion, Research and Information Order. This proposal would establish a 'check-off' program for hardwood products similar to existing programs for dairy, beef, and softwood lumber commodities. In these programs, money is collected from producers and used to fund advertising and research activities that benefit the industry as a whole. The familiar tag lines shown above are examples of some of the promotion efforts resulting from such programs.

The hardwood proposal is open for comment until January 13, 2014. After that, the proposal may be revised and then the hardwood producers themselves will have the opportunity to vote. If the proposal is accepted as it is now, it would establish a $1 per $1,000 in sales levy on hardwood lumber producers (with different fees for other producers in the hardwood industry). All producers with sales over $2 million/year would be required to pay. The money collected - estimated at about $10 million per year - would be allocated to research and promotion programs by a board made up of industry members.

Not surprisingly, this proposal has stimulated strong responses - both in favor and against. Supporters point to the experience of similar programs for other commodities and view the fragmented hardwood industry as the ideal candidate for similar success: they argue that only by pooling their efforts can they achieve 'critical mass' for effective promotion. Some proponents argue that this program would be fairer than the current situation, where some companies fund promotion efforts that can indirectly benefit other producers that don't pay. On the other hand, some opponents see it simply as a government tax that won't benefit their business. Others are skeptical of a program that includes such diverse products as hardwood plywood (highly processed products with high value and potentially global markets) and pallet lumber (low value with local markets). Still others worry that this program would reduce support for current promotion programs run through voluntary industry associations.

The full proposal, and instructions for how to comment, is listed here:
https://www.federalregister.gov/articles/2013/11/13/2013-27108/hardwood-lumber-and-hardwood-plywood-promotion-research-and-information-order.
At the moment, it is unknown whether this 'hardwood check-off' proposal will be changed and/or passed. If it does pass, it will join a growing number of programs designed to promote a commodity in general, rather than a particular brand. But whether promoted through a check-off program or otherwise, American hardwoods have many merits to publicize, including: quality, legality and sustainability.

 

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