Voting was set to conclude June 10 on a long-discussed proposal to create a government-sanctioned group that would add an assessment to softwood lumber sales and use the money for marketing and promotions roughly akin to milk producers' "Got Milk?" campaign.

If it passes, a Softwood Lumber Research, Promotion, Consumer Education and Industry Information Order would be created 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," according to an April 22 notice in the Federal Register. It would be financed through an assessment fee and administered by a board comprised of industry members selected by the secretary of the federal Department of Agriculture. The initial assessment fee would be 35 cents per thousand board feet moved within or imported into the country. Manufacturers and importers who bring in less than 15 million board feet per year would be exempt from the assessment fee.

One ultimate goal of the new group would be to increase the popularity of softwood lumber in American buildings. While the assessment scheme and organizational intent is similar to what milk producers are doing with their "Got Milk?" campaign, an official familiar with the plan stressed to ProSales that the marketing money would be directed at builders, architects, and others who have the greatest influence on choosing construction materials, not consumers.

Voting for the rule began May 23 and was open to all domestic softwood importers and producers who manufactured or imported at least 15 million board feet in 2010. The rule must be favored by a majority of voters, and those voters must also represent a majority of the volume of softwood lumber manufactured and imported in the country.

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," the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) said. "These campaigns did not last long enough to succeed."

This latest initiative was led by a Blue Ribbon Committee of 21 major softwood producers from the United States and Canada, The committee submitted its proposal to USDA in February 2010.