Compliance is complicated. Each state has its own rules and regulations to prevent inbound shipments of diseased plants, regulated pests and invasive plants. If a pest is federally quarantined, it is also governed by additional federal regulations that manage interstate movement.
Currently, there are 142,000 state and federal shipping regulatory combinations. That means staying up to date with compliance requirements for growing and shipping plants is a full-time job.
Keeping track of all this is a tough enough challenge for nurseries, rewholesalers, garden centers and landscapers to handle. But there are also a growing number of consumers buying plants online directly from e-commerce vendors. Most of those consumers are unaware of the complex plant regulation system designed to protect against the spread of insect pests, plant diseases and invasive plants.
Compliance may be complicated, but it’s also important. Mistakes can be costly. If you’re caught breaking these regulations, the offending crops will be destroyed and you’ll face fines by state, local or federal authorities. Either way, you lose money. And it can wreck your company’s reputation.
Plant Sentry is a regulatory risk management tool designed to ensure that wholesale, retail and e-commerce vendors grow and ship only plants that are fully compliant with all federal and state regulations and restrictions.
“The Plant Sentry regulatory risk management tool saves countless hours in managing and understanding all federal and state rules.” said Jeff Dinslage, president and CEO of Plant Sentry. “The tool helps monitor revolving inventory against ever-changing regulations, which can stop problems before they start by being proactive in ensuring you comply with the myriad of state and federal regulations. By using this tool, you can save labor hours, increase sales, protect your company’s reputation and limit the risk of liability.”
How it works
First, you supply your inventory, in whatever format you can, and the locations you ship to and from. From there, Plant Sentry audits each plant in your system and identifies the state and federal regulations for pests, diseases, and invasive species for your plants and shipping locations. Once complete, you will have access to your database of plants and any shipping restrictions through the Plant Sentry web portal. You will receive a suggested compliance list for each plant article that may need to be resolved.
This list will tell you why a plant may not be shippable to a particular state. You will receive this information in a simple alert telling you a reason: pest, disease, or invasive plant. This analysis helps prevent the accidental shipment of a plant that may pose a threat to your shipment region.
How the shipping restrictions screen looks when using the Plant Sentry portal on a mobile device
In addition to mitigating risk, Plant Sentry can also help you enter new markets, including ones you may have considered off-limits.
“Plant Sentry’s goal is to help facilitate sales, not prohibit sales,” said Tom Buechel, president of Buechel Horticulture Solutions, LLC, and compliance officer for Plant Sentry. “We want the ability to see new pathways to sell your material that you didn’t think you had before. If you don’t know the pathway, it’s easy for a grower to say ‘I don’t want to do it.’”
“Over the last couple years in the development of Plant Sentry, we’ve been getting feedback from growers saying they’re pulling their hair out,” Buechel said. “Their time is pressed with staff issues and growing plants. Dealing with things on the regulatory front take away from these primary responsibilities.”
Nature Hills Nursery developed Plant Sentry to resolve this problem. The Omaha, Nebraska, nursery was founded in 2001, and expanded its business from selling plants to a small geographic area by creating NatureHills.com, an online plant source that offers trees, shrubs and perennials nationwide. To improve its own e-commerce process, they wanted to develop a nationwide database that could be programmed to be easily updated as regulations change. Now they’ve made that tool available to the entire green industry.
"Growing a wide variety of plants and shipping them to dozens of states--each with their evolving sets of regulations and restrictions--is becoming increasingly complex and time consuming,” said Josh Zielinski, who uses Plant Sentry at Alpha Nursery, in Salem, Oregon. “We want to do the right thing and be compliant 100% of the time but particularly in the peak of the spring shipping it's possible to make mistakes. Using Plant Sentry gives us quick reassurance that we are in compliance without digging through [possibly outdated] lists or waiting on phone calls to Ag Departments."
One reason to use Plant Sentry to ensure you’re shipping compliant, approved plants is to provide a level of accountability, which can protect the grower from liability issues.
“From an e-commerce standpoint, there has been fuzzy logic at the state and federal officials’ level of who’s accountable for screwing up,” Buechel said. “Traditionally, it’s been the grower. The grower gets the rap. E-commerce companies that do not verify shipments are going to brush their hands and walk away from the grower, leaving them hanging. We didn’t think that was right.”
The emergency mitigation support and verification checks provided by Plant Sentry can ensure proper documentation of growers’ compliance – so they don’t get burned.
The Plant Sentry software is continuously updated, and you can check real-time regulation status by doing verification checks at multiple points in the production, sales and shipping process.
How to get started
The technology team behind Plant Sentry can help integrate the software with your existing inventory management system. And the database can be accessed on mobile devices, so your staff has the support it needs to make informed decisions in the field.
Nature Hills and its suppliers have been using the software in its own e-commerce system for years. They’ve incorporated feedback from growers and e-commerce retailers who participated in trials. After extensive testing, Plant Sentry has begun taking orders.
Pricing is determined based on a few factors, according to Trent Minneman, chief operations officer of Plant Sentry. There is a setup fee that covers the initial audit and botanical nomenclature cleanup, which includes merging some duplicate plants into one plant article. There is a monthly subscription fee that is calculated based on the number of potential compliant scenarios.
“That’s the number of shipping locations, the number of SKUs and the number of states we have to check,” Minneman said. “We use that to come up with a multiplier to determine what that monthly fee will look like.”
This fee is scalable and affordable for each operation. Interested companies can receive a free quote at www.plantsentry.com/quote.
In December, AmericanHort announced a partnership with Plant Sentry. As an Affinity partner, which means AmericanHort members will be eligible for cost savings in using the Plant Sentry program. Savings will vary based on each business’s needs. Craig Regelbrugge, Senior Vice President for Public Policy and Government Relations, AmericanHort, endorsed the product at the AmericanHort Advocacy Breakfast Jan. 10 at MANTS.
“You can avoid costly mistakes and reputation damage if you know the restrictions and compliance regulations for every plant you offer, in all the states where you do business,” Regelbrugge said “Plant Sentry has solved this longstanding business challenge."
Some nurseries view the Plant Sentry trust mark as the evolution of their associated efforts to boost consumer confidence in their brand, a way to go beyond even voluntary audit-based programs like the Systems Approach for Nursery Certification.
“As a partner/shipper for Nature Hills Nursery, one of the first adoptees of Plant Sentry, Loma Vista Nursery is committed to healthy plants through every step of the production and distribution processes,” said Lyndsi Oestman, president of Loma Vista Nursery. “The shipping guidance and compliance program works hand-in-glove with Loma Vista Nursery's SANC certification – further reducing pest risks and supporting our company’s commitment to growing healthy plants for independent garden centers, landscape contractors and wholesale distributors.”
Northern Family Farms is a Wisconsin nursery that is looking forward to its partnership with Plant Sentry.
“We realize that taking the extra step to ensure compliance with both state and federal shipping regulations is a valuable addition to our services lineup,” Ashley Ahl, partner at Northern Family Farms. “It is our hope that current customers and prospective customers will appreciate the added protection that Plant Sentry certified shipments from Northern Family Farms will provide their retail outlets.”
For more: www.plantsentry.com