In response to the challenges presented by a flourishing e-commerce marketplace for live plants, Plant Sentry has developed a comprehensive plant compliance tool. This new program is designed to ensure that e-commerce vendors grow and ship only plants that are fully compliant with the regulations and restrictions of all 50 states.
Nature Hills Nursery, Inc. was one of Plant Sentry’s earliest adopters and has played a critical role in the tool’s design and development. “At Nature Hills, our intention is to be proactive and completely compliant,” Jeff Dinslage says. “The Plant Sentry tool makes it possible to meet the stringent growing, inspection, and audit requirements for plants in every state, thereby protecting against the spread of plant diseases, plant pests, invasive plants, and other threats to plant health and environmental safety.”
According to Dinslage, one of the tool’s primary architects, the Plant Sentry Compliance Tool was inspired by the SANC (Systems Approach to Nursery Certification) program, which was developed under the guidance of the National Plant Board, AmericanHort, USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, and other green industry leaders.
To create the Plant Sentry tool, we created a comprehensive national database for plant compliance. This database includes the plant regulations and restrictions for all 50 states, and it is continually updated.
State rules are examined to determine which plants cannot be sold in each specific state, and updates are entered into the database. Grower agreements between Plant Sentry and each nursery ensure that all rules and regulations are being followed at all times. The Plant Sentry Compliance Office works closely with NatureHills.com and each nursery or fulfillment center to ensure only compliant plants are sold and shipped to customers. Likewise, the Plant Sentry Program, through the Compliance Office, utilizes state certification programs to ensure that plant material is free from significant nursery pests.
The Plant Sentry tool also includes a shipment verification program. Proprietary e-commerce software prevents the shipment of a restricted plant to each state. Each online order is automatically evaluate to identify any restricted plants based upon the customer’s zip code, helping ensure that only compliant plants are shipped. Because Plant Sentry was designed as a cloud-based service it can interface with any ecommerce system at the product level, shipping page, checkout, or any point that users are interacting with specific plants when the destination is known.
In the unlikely event that a restricted plant is shipped, a robust recovery and emergency communications plan is implemented. The state and customer are notified so that proper procedures can be followed for the return or destruction of the non-compliant plant material.
Additional proactive procedures are in place to achieve full compliance. On-staff horticulturists review all online plant descriptions to ensure the information presented is complete and accurate. Horticulturists also make nursery inspections to ensure plant health and safety and work with state inspection agencies to utilize state certification documentation. In addition, horticulturists assist the Customer Service Department to answer questions about plant care and choosing plants that are appropriate in each state.
“At Nature Hills Nursery, we are fully committed to providing our customers with healthy plants that are appropriate for their area,” Dinslage says. “We are committed to shipping only plants that are non-invasive and free of insect pests and diseases and are fully compliant with state and federal requirements.”
“In order to achieve the highest standard of plant health, quality, and compliance, we had to design our own tool to make sure all of our plants have been inspected and plants are not being shipped to customers in areas where those plants could become invasive,” Dinslage says. “We even created an auditable manual with emergency response procedures to deal with every possible contingency. We are taking everything we have learned and all of the systems we have developed to create the Plant Sentry compliance program, which can now be utilized by other nursery e-commerce companies.”
“We intend to brand Plant Sentry as a name that nursery growers and consumers alike can trust,” Dinslage says. “When you buy a plant from a Plant Sentry™ verified nursery, retailer, or e-commerce vendor, you are buying a plant that complies with all state and federal rules and regulations. You can be assured that your plants are healthy and you’re not contributing to the spread of harmful pests, diseases, and invasive species.”