Panhandle Pine Producers Fear Lobbyists May Shut Out Florida Growers

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Chipley- The Florida Panhandle has long grown a lot of pine.

"Green Circles energy plant, that's here because we've got pine- a lot of it" said Ted Everett, Washington County Chamber of Commerce Director and Tree Farmer. "They have to have that much volume of timber to make those little pellets that they sell to the countries over in Europe. When you think about it, they built a special warehouse in the port of Panama City just for this endeavor. That gives you just some small clue how big tree farming and the timber industry is to this part of the world."

Everett went on to explain that most farmers, like George Owens, the owner of George Owens Farms, were certified by one of dozens of organizations such as the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) or Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). By joining an organization, the farmer subscribes to its best methods of practice.

"I've had my farm certified by American Forestry for best management practices" Owens told us. Farmers aren't required to be certified, but it has become a way for buyers to know the farm operates an environmentally sound practice. Members of organizations are usually only certified by one group of their choice.

And it was the ability to choose, or organizational diversity, that farmers like Owens and Everett were fighting for.

"There's a movement now that will give States the opportunity to pick one type of certification for forestry products."

In theory, that would mean states would select one association, then require contractors to buy lumber based on that organization's requirements. If a tree farmer didn't belong to that organization, or didn't subscribe to it's best practices- such as sustainable planting- they'd be disqualified from selling their wood.

The industry was fighting the proposal, arguing that American farmers would face additional obstacles, while overseas timber growers would be able to bypass association requirements and undercut US prices.

"We want to make sure that our tree farmers have every advantage they can get. We don't want to hurt them, we don't want to hinder them. We want to see them get their products to market in all cases. Let there be lots of organizations in place so that the free market works" Everett said.

"It's just like automobiles, everybody doesn't want to drive a Ford or Toyota, they might want to drive a Cadillac" Owens explained. "And that's the same way we are in the forestry business. We may like particular issues American Forestry supports and may not like others. So I think it's good we have a variety where we can make a choice what organizations we want to be associated with."

Everett said at this point, he was not aware of any proposed legislation that would make states choose a single organization as the state wide standard.

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