SANC standards include plant material being free from quarantine pests, quarantine plant material being scouted and plants being grown that prevents and minimizes plant pest risk.
Photo courtesy of Raymond A. Cloyd

Dealing with pest pressures isn’t exclusive to treating and scouting during production. It’s also critical at shipping time to ensure growers are selling the healthiest plants and complying with state or national regulatory issues. There are two programs designed to help the industry stay in compliance, better monitor pest risks and prepare plans that help with accountability: The Systems Approach to Nursery Certification (SANC) and Plant Sentry.

SANC reduces pest risk associated with plant stock by identifying and dealing with pest hazards at all stages in production. 

The foundation of SANC involves risk management: Preventing problems from coming into the nursery; monitoring and scouting crops; accurately diagnosing pests and diseases; addressing problems and documenting them; and performing audits to avoid shipping pests and pathogens. SANC requires growers to identify critical control points, which are specific steps in the process where procedures can be applied to most efficiently manage risk.

SANC is a voluntary, audit-based program. It’s a three-way partnership involving the National Plant Board, various parts of the green industry and USDA’s Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service. Certification is based on how plants are produced rather than exclusively on how those plants look at the time of a single inspection.

Kim Lovelace-Young, president and general manager at Forrest Keeling, describes SANC as a “streamlined process for collaboration” between growers and state regulators.

Proactive measures

Systems approaches look at potential hazards throughout the production and handling processes — what can go wrong, where — and points where proactive measures can be applied, like sanitation, a diagnostic test or a treatment.

SANC standards require:

  1. Certified plant material is free from quarantine pests based on regulatory compliance agreements.
  2. Non-quarantine plant materials have been actively scouted, problems mitigated and eliminated using effective methods responsibly.
  3. Plants have been grown in a management system that prevents and minimizes plant pest risk.
  4. Ensure the integrity of the SANC program is preserved through plant material traceability records, staff training, documenting/taking corrective actions and completing multiple annual internal and external audits.

Once a grower is accepted into the program, there are several basic steps to complete. First is the risk assessment where potential pest pathways are identified, best management practices (BMPs) for preventive approaches are addressed and mitigation strategies are discussed.

Next, a grower develops a SANC manual in which a plan addresses the identified pest risks and keeps records of what is done. When this is complete, growers must train their staff to ensure BMPs are used throughout each level of the facility system. Then the manual is approved by the state and representatives of the National Plant Board to make sure the facility meets SANC standards on a consistent basis. Next the grower implements the components listed in the manual followed by multiple internal audits. Finally, the external audit is administered, which entails a systems audit and a surveillance audit. 

Regular pest scouting is a key part of the SANC program.
Photos courtesy of Kelli Rodda

SANC benefits

Once the BMPs are in place and being consistently implemented, SANC has the potential to reduce pest control costs due to improved pest management. It may also result in reducing shipping inspection and certification costs.

Because it’s a flexible program, it supports a range of plant production systems, whether large or small, as well as niche and specialty growers. It prevents the introduction and spread of pests, pathogens and weeds. The manuals and BMPs help increase communication between facility staff.

“We found that we were doing a lot of these practices anyway, and the SANC program helped us document it and add recordkeeping into what we were already doing,” Lovelace-Young says. “We have a facility manual and a best management plan now in writing, whereas before, we were doing most of these things, but it wasn’t documented. Now that it’s documented, it’s a management tool for us.”

Forrest Keeling didn’t need to add staff to oversee the SANC program.

“It did require quite a bit of time to develop the facility manual and the best management plan, but now that it’s in place, it’s saving us a lot of time and confusion on who’s responsible for what. It’s very much an organizational guide for us,” she adds.

Documenting pest treatment is another key part of the SANC program.

Risk management tool

Compliance is complicated. Each state has its own rules and regulations to prevent inbound shipments of regulated pests, diseased plants, and invasive plants. If a pest is federally quarantined, it is also governed by additional federal regulations that manage interstate movement.

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,” says 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.”

SANC can reduce shipping inspection and certification costs.

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 possibly threatening plant.

In addition to mitigating risk, Plant Sentry can also help you enter new markets, including ones you may have considered off-limits.

Nature Hills Nursery, an online plant source that offers trees, shrubs and perennials nationwide, developed Plant Sentry 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.

“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,” says Lyndsi Oestmann, 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.”

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.

There is a monthly subscription fee that is calculated based on the number of potential compliant scenarios.