The softwood lumber industry voted to approve the creation of a check-off program whose assessments would generate millions of dollars annually, in large part to promote the use of softwood lumber, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced last week. The campaign would be akin to milk producers' "Got Milk?" campaign but would be directed at builders, architects, and others who influence choices of construction materials rather than at consumers.

Roughly 67% of the voters representing 80% of the volume of softwood lumber manufactured for U.S. use voted between May 23 and June 10 for creation of the Softwood Lumber Research Promotion, Consumer Education and Industry Information Order, USDA said. In order to pass, the proposed program had to be endorsed by a majority both in terms of number of votes and amount of production those voters represented.

"I am gratified and encouraged that this vote demonstrates that softwood lumber manufacturers across North America are committed to working progressively together to build a better future for the industry," Jack Jordan, chair of the Blue Ribbon Commission for Check-off (BRC) and executive vice president of Jordan Lumber & Supply Inc. in North Carolina, said in a statement. "The check-off is a strong, well-thought-out idea that will create enormous opportunities. It is a game-changing investment in the future growth of softwood lumber markets in North America." The BRC, comprised of 21 North American softwood lumber industry leaders, has been working on a check-off program for more than two years. (Click here for details.)

The program- calls for all softwood companies that domeistically ship or import more than 15 million board feet of softwood lumber annually to pay an initial assessment rate of 35 cents per thousand board feet. BRC projects assessment income between $12.4 million and almost $19 million per year based on shipment levels ranging from 40 to 60 billion board feet, USDA said in a notice about the program last year. U.S. sawmills produced about 29.5 billion board feet of softwood lumber in 2007-2008, the USDA's Forest Service reported then, while Canada exported about 12 billion feet of softwood lumber to the United States annually at that time, and another billion board feet came from other countries.

The proposed assessment represents the latest attempt by softwood lumber interests to join together and promote their wood in the face of competition from products such as vinyl siding and fiber cement. "In the past, the industry attempted voluntary efforts to promote forest products, but they were sporadic, underfunded, and narrowly targeted," USDA said last November. "These campaigns did not last long enough to succeed."

The BRC said today the check-off program will seek "to increase the share for softwood lumber in key building markets such as non-residential construction and overseas markets, and facilitate the development of innovative technologies such as cross-laminated timber."

"To grow the pie, a program of this size and scope is exactly what we need to ensure a successful future for the softwood lumber industry," Jordan said. 

Craig Webb is editor of ProSales.