Timber industry for first time recognized as an agricultural commodity

Northern Minnesota loggers and log haulers, along with others across the nation, are getting relief from a federal financial assistance program.

To loggers like Greg Tibbets, help is long overdue.

Northern Minnesota loggers and log haulers, along with others across the country, are getting some relief.

A $200 million federal Pandemic Assistance for Timber Harvesters and Haulers (PATHH) financial assistance program, has been finalized to help loggers and haulers impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.

“I think it's really important,” Tibbets, of Finland, Minn., said. “Some guys are probably going to benefit from it more than others. But with Verso (in Duluth) closing down, it impacted some guys immensely. It changed everybody's game in the area – everybody who shipped to Duluth.”

The program is funded by the federal 2020 Supplemental Appropriations Bill. The bill was approved in December.

The program was rolled out this week after seven months of lobbying, discussions and planning.

“It's significant for those who qualify,” Scott Dane, of rural Gilbert, American Loggers Council executive director said. “For those who didn't get impacted, good for them. But for those who did, it's badly needed.”

Loggers were hit hard in 2020 by a slowdown in the production of paper for schools and businesses. Mill slowdowns and closures also cut into timber harvesting. That left many loggers holding contracts on tracts of timber that was useless to harvest.

Timber harvesting was so slow that some turned to clearing roadsides under county-funded assistance programs. Some went out of business.

However, the program should help some loggers get back on solid ground.

The program provides a maximum grant of $125,000 to loggers and log haulers based on gross revenue from Jan. 1, 2019, through Dec. 1, 2019, minus their gross revenue from Jan. 1, 2020, through Dec. 1, 2020, multiplied by 80 percent.

An informal survey last year estimated about 40 percent of northern Minnesota loggers and log haulers would qualify for the program, Dane said.

A total of 35 states are considered timber producers, Dane said,

It's the first time ever that the timber industry has been included in federal assistance programs provided to the nation's agricultural sector, he said.

“Loggers are kind of a stubborn bunch and they just kind of go with the situation and work harder and work longer hours,” Dane said. “But just like the assistance given to farmers and other commodities, it's about time loggers got treated equally.”

The program was developed by the United States Department of Agriculture USDA Rural Development, U.S. Forest Service, and the Farm Service Agency. The program will be administered by the Farm Service Agency.

Zach Ducheneaux, administrator of the Farm Service Agency, said the American Loggers Council was key in moving the program forward.

“We thank the American Loggers Council and its state association members for helping us better understand the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on the timber harvester and timber hauler sectors,” Ducheneaux said in a statement. “They provided insights on their industry that allowed us to develop an effective and efficient program that delivers the greatest benefits to businesses in need.”

Minnesota Sen. Tina Smith and Maine Sen. Susan Collins were key in supporting the assistance program for loggers, Dane said.

Minnesota's forest products industry supports more than 30,000 direct jobs, generates approximately $9.8 billion in direct shipments and $17.8 billion in total impacts.

“It's good to see that they recognize us as something vital to the economy and the people,” Tibbets said. “I think it's going to be a pretty good help to help people get up and running.”

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