Thursday, November 18, 2010

Growing the Market for Sustainably Produced Wood Products

Through November 30, 2010, the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service Research and Promotion Branch is accepting public comments regarding a proposed Softwood Lumber Research, Promotion, Consumer Education and Industry Information Order. Following are excerpts from the Endowment's comments on that proposed order.

Among the first initiatives undertaken by the Endowment was a study that led to the report, "Commodity Check-off: The Potential for North American Softwood Lumber." The study led to the creation of the Blue Ribbon Commission for Softwood Lumber Check-off (BRC). At that point the Endowment was joined by the BiNational Softwood Lumber Council (an industry support group also created under the Softwood Lumber Agreement 2006) in advancing and providing financial support to the BRC.

The Need for Check-off

Grow the Market for Renewable Products: North America is a continent of forests and a society founded on forest products. In spite of the fact that wood is the greenest of all building products, it has increasingly lost share to competing products (e.g. steel, plastic and concrete) that are not renewable, require greater energy consumption in production and have more environmental impacts. The widely fragmented forest products sector has never been able to mount and sustain a broad-based research and promotion program to grow its markets due to lack of broad participation in underwriting those activities. A USDA check-off is the only solution to remedy this situation.

Provide Markets to Encourage Management of Forests: North America is plagued by increasing forest health challenges driven by globalization and climate change. Varied and vibrant markets for forest products are the most important tool in providing outlets that encourage and allow forest owners to appropriately manage their holdings. A strong promotion program funded by a check-off will stimulate new and increased demand for forest owners' products, and the expanding revenue streams that will flow from this will support management required by new forest health challenges.

Focus on Growing: An Indisputable Business Case: We believe that one of the greatest gains from check-off will come in improved relations between the U.S. and Canadian industries through a laser-like focus on the all important need to grow markets for the good of all. North America's forest industry has long experienced conflict between the U.S. and Canadian systems, which continues today. While these issues go unresolved, competing products continue to take market share from wood. Both countries and their respective industries will benefit greatly from a collective focus on growing the market pie through a powerful promotion program funded by a check-off.

Family-Supporting Jobs in Rural Communities: By their very nature the growing, harvesting, manufacturing and renewing forests and forest products are rural. The forest products industry has been one of the most important pillars of rural community life through provision of family-supporting jobs. Growing markets through concerted research and promotion will retain and create needed jobs.

Keeping Forests as Forests: Forests blanket one-third of the United States and those forests are held primarily by families -- some 11,000,000 of them. If we hope to retain those non-public lands as forests for the many benefits they provide to society (e.g. sources of wood products, homes to wildlife, places for recreation, providers of water, etc.) it is important that we provide the economic incentives -- markets -- for those trees when landowners need to sell to meet their management and economic objectives. A check-off can be a strong driver to maintain forests as forests.

Check-off: Extending Lessons from Traditional Agriculture to Forests
American farmers have shown for decades the importance and power of collaboration to grow markets for their products. The literally hundreds of millions of dollars that have been provided through voluntary self-assessments under check-offs have led to new products and markets through research and expanded consumer understanding, appreciation and use. We feel strongly that the forest products industry as represented by softwood lumber producers domestically and those from around the world who wish to access the U.S. market will benefit greatly from adoption to check-off.