(The Center Square) – A bill creating a fund to promote Missouri’s hardwood forest products would drive economic growth in southern counties in the state, according to the bill’s sponsor.
“I feel being able to promote forest products, especially hardwood products, would benefit the state even more and benefit many of the districts within the state,” Rep. Ron Copeland, R-Salem, told the House Agriculture Policy Committee on Tuesday. “This bill is providing a fund through the Department of Agriculture.”
House Bill 2650 creates the “Missouri Hardwood Forest Product Promotion Fund.” It states the fund will consist of any grants, gifts, bequests and money appropriated by the general assembly. The state treasurer will be the fund’s custodian and may approve disbursements.
The committee took no action on the legislation.
Missouri’s forest products industry contributes $10 billion to the state’s economy, according to the Department of Agriculture. It supports approximately 46,000 jobs and a payroll of $2.6 billion. It generates roughly $800 million in taxes, including $103 million in state sales taxes.
Copeland said he met with the Missouri Department of Conservation to discuss a possible collaboration and funding. When the department refused to discuss sharing a portion of the $6 million it gets from harvesting timber on its properties, Copeland turned to the Department of Agriculture.
“I would think some kind of investment back into the product would be beneficial to the state,” Copeland said.
Copeland said 42% of the acreage in Shannon County is owned by federal or state governments. Approximately 8 million board feet of lumber, worth $2 million in timber sales, is produced annually in the county, Copeland said.
“That’s why I’m passionate about this little bit of an investment,” Copeland said. “Shannon County is one of the poorest counties in the state and this would help make a drastic increase in the forest industry. … I think we can improve my district and support my constituents in providing them better economic development.”
Several committee members inquired about how the fund would accumulate money, including appropriations from the state’s general revenue. Copeland said the fund needed to be created before making any plans for contributions. He did mention the possibility of getting funds from the American Rescue Plan Act.
If the fund is created, several committee members inquired about raising money through a checkoff program, where producers contribute or pay an assessment on the sale of commodities.
“Within the industry, an agreement on a checkoff has remained elusive,” Shannon Cooper, a representative of the Missouri Forest Products Association, said while testifying in favor of the bill. “As you can imagine, there are numerous folks who ask where to start? Is it the guy who cuts down the tree or is it the woman who runs it through the sawmill? We have worked at the national level for years to try and find consensus and we have yet to find one.”
A food, beverage and forest product manufacturing task force led by the Department of Agriculture in 2020 published a report stating consumer and public education is needed for the forest industry.
“Negative public perception on harvesting forests is causing tree mortality issues,” the report said. “Setting a goal to reduce the forest mortality rate and educating the public on why that goal has been set is a growth opportunity for the industry.”
No one testified against the bill.