USDA ruling gives forest goods preference

Submitted by: Pamela Watters 08/13/2014

The USDA has eliminated the restrictions on including mature market wood products and other materials in the BioPreferred program.

This article originally appeared on The Bradford Era website on August 8, 2014.

A U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) ruling on Wednesday is expected to benefit the nation’s forest products industry through a new preference in a government program for purchases of bio-based products. 

The USDA’s BioPreferred Program requires every federal agency to give a procurement preference to designated items composed of bio-based products including cleaners, lubricants, building materials and fuel additives, thereby increasing the purchase and use of designated bio-based products through a preferred procurement initiative for federal agencies. 

But forest products were long kept off the list under previous USDA Guidelines which deemed products considered to be “mature market” products — those that had a significant market share prior to 1972 — ineligible.  

Wednesday’s decision effectively lifts the program’s forest products restriction for manufacturers able to demonstrate that they apply an “innovative approach” in any part of the life cycle of their product.

It enacts changes set forth under the 2014 Farm Bill which newly requires the BioPreferred program to “promote bio-based products, including forest products, that apply an innovative approach to growing, harvesting, sourcing, procuring, processing, manufacturing, or application of bio-based products regardless of the date of entry into the marketplace.”

Many in the lumber industry have long taken issue with the exclusion saying wood products have always been “bio-based.”

Congressman Glenn Thompson, R-Pa., agreed, and pushed for new language as part of his Forest Product Fairness Act. Thompson on Thursday said he was pleased with the ruling and hopes it will serve to boost a domestic and regional lumber industry still feeling the after-effects of a housing market crash nearly six years ago. 

“The rule announced today by USDA is positive news and an important step forward for the BioPreferred program,” stated Thompson, chairman of the House Agriculture Subcommittee on Conservation, Energy & Forestry. “These changes allow U.S. forest producers to compete on a level playing field and will create new market opportunities for our domestic forestry industry.”

Thompson’s said, while well-intended, these previous guidelines gave preference to foreign-made products, such as bamboo products produced outside the U.S.

While unable to estimate the exact amount of new business this change in policy will generate — regionally or nationally — Thompson’s office said it will ensure that the federal government and consumers know that purchasing U.S.-made wood products is as environmentally sound an option as purchasing products like foreign-made bamboo.

“There is no doubt this change will help generate new and increased business for American wood producers, manufacturers, and the broader industry supply chain,” his office writes. 

USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack said the new language will also serve to drive the development of innovative wood products including biofuels and adhesives, and using engineered wood technologies in body armor and high rise construction. A three to five story building made from emerging wood technologies would have the same emissions control as taking up to 550 cars off the road for one year, by some industry estimates. 

“Every day, companies across the nation are expanding markets for agriculture and growing job opportunities in rural America,” said Vilsack. “The inclusion of innovative wood products furthers our commitment to strengthening the bio-based economy and ensures that the federal government uses home American grown products whenever possible.”

Source: This article originally appeared on The Bradford Era website on August 8, 2014. Image: Two Sides North America.