The woodworking industry is breathing a sigh of relief now that one of the main sticking points — that wood chips were not recognized as being used for high-value products — has been eliminated under the final Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP) rule, announced on Oct. 21.

Revised by the USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA), the BCAP rule now protects existing markets for hardwood and softwood chips, stating “eligible materials may not qualify for matching payments for BCAP purposes if USDA determines that in those distinct localities that the materials are used for pre-existing markets.”

According to the rule: “Wood chips are eligible materials that qualify for matching payments only if collected or harvested directly from the land, or separated from a higher-value product, in accordance with an approved conservation plan, forest stewardship plan, or equivalent plan, before delivery to a biomass conversion facility, and have not been determined by CCC (Commodity Credit Corp.) as a higher-value product in that local market. If CCC determines that in distinct local markets, the wood chips are used for products such as particleboard, the chips cannot qualify for matching payments in that market.”

FSA also has stated that sawdust would only be eligible for a BCAP matching payment if: “1) collected or harvested directly from the land, in accordance with an approved conservation plan, forest stewardship plan, or equivalent plan, before delivery to a biomass conversion facility, 2) separated from a higher-value product, and 3) has not been determined by CCC as having a higher-value product in that local market... If CCC determines that in distinct local markets, the sawdust can be used for higher-value products such as particleboard, the sawdust cannot qualify for matching payments in that market.”

The changes in the rule now provide incentives for the cultivation of new biomass for new markets, rather than divert the biomass from existing markets. Had FSA not revised BCAP, it would have created a serious shortage of raw materials for producers of composite panels, and higher prices for those who use them. In addition, it had been estimated that 30,000 jobs at U.S. composite panel mills would have ultimately disappeared, along with 350,000 additional jobs in the furniture, cabinet and related industries that use composite panels as substrates, if changes had not been made to the program.

The Composite Panel Assn. (CPA) is among the industry groups that fought for these changes. In a release by the association, Tom Julia, CPA president, stated, ““BCAP has morphed from a job killing welfare program to one that now makes economic and environmental sense. It is now targeted to the production of new sources of woody biomass, rather than raiding established, viable markets for the wood fiber upon which a wide range of American industries rely.”

Along with the CPA, I laud U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and the FSA for recognizing the value that these materials have to the woodworking industry and to the livelihood of those it employs.

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