The softwood lumber industry has asked the federal government for permission to create the kind of buzz for their product that milk producers created with the "Got Milk?" ad campaign.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is inviting comments through Nov. 30 on an industry-financed, industry-managed program designed to promote the use of softwood lumber. Developed by a Blue Ribbon Committee of 21 major softwood manufacturers from the United States and Canada, the proposal calls for all softwood companies to pay an initial assessment rate of 35 cents per thousand board feet of softwood lumber shipped within or imported into the United States. The committee projects an assessment would raise $12.4 million to almost $19 million per year.

If the idea does go to a vote, a majority of domestic manufacturers–as measured in terms of industry count and volume of output–would have to support the program for it to be launched.

"The purpose of the program would be to strengthen the position of softwood lumber in the marketplace, maintain and expand markets for softwood lumber, and develop new uses for softwood lumber within the United States," USDA's proposed rule said. "A referendum would be held among eligible domestic manufacturers and importers to determine whether they favor implementation of the program prior to it going into effect."

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. Past joint efforts "were sporadic, underfunded, and narrowly targeted," USDA said.