WASHINGTON - Plywood, flooring and green mills would be removed and fees would be scaled back under a simplified proposal for the Hardwood Checkoff program - an ad promotion program for hardwood lumber manufacturers similar to the 'Got Milk' program run by milk producers. The proposed changes to the "Hardwood Lumber and Hardwood Plywood Promotion, Research, and Information Order" would result in program funding being cut from an estimated $10 million down to around $3 million to $4 million.
Hardwood Checkoff sponsor The Blue Ribbon Committee submitted a letter to the USDA dated Sept. 7 calling for the changes. The public comment period closed Sept. 9, with more than 1,300 woodworkers weighing in on the USDA's June 9 re-proposal of the Hardwood Checkoff.
The latest changes involve a notable reduction in the scope of the program — from the original 1,426 mills targeted to approximately 375 mills selling kiln-dried lumber only. The eligible mills would be assessed at a flat rate of $.50 per $1,000 in sales, while mills under $2 million would continue to be exempted.
According to the BRC, “The changes we are recommending would significantly reduce [the checkoff], resulting in a roughly $3 to $4 million annual program. …we would point out that even this lowered amount is over 10 times what has ever been collected through voluntary programs in the past.” The committee also noted the greater ability to leverage checkoff funds through building on the programs already begun by the softwood and paper checkoffs.
The BRC said opposition to the original proposal convinced it "that the target would need to be reduced." Specifically, the BRC agreed to remove green mills, plywood, and unfinished flooring from the program, and to simplify the assessment rate to one calculation, lowered from $1 to $.50 per $1,000 in sales.
The group added, “Although we never anticipated a process which would require five years or more of work, we are pleased that so many in the industry have been given the chance to review and understand the checkoff fully and communicate their views. It is time, in our view and apparently many others, for the debate to end and a vote to be taken on the Hardwood Checkoff.”
The proposed Hardwood Checkoff was first published in the Federal Register in November 2013, and revised in the spring of 2014, editorial amendments published earlier this year. The program would set a tax on lumber producers to help promote wood sales, similar to the "Got Milk?" and "Pork: The Other White Meat" ad programs. The program has received its share of controversy, with wood industry groups for and against the checkoff voicing their views.
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