Nature Hills Nursery develops Plant Sentry compliance system

Nature Hills Nursery develops Plant Sentry compliance system

The program is designed to ensure that e-commerce vendors grow and ship only plants that are fully compliant with U.S. regulations and restrictions.

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OMAHA, Neb. -- Nature Hills Nursery, an e-commerce seller of trees, shrubs and perennial plants, has developed a comprehensive plant compliance system called Plant Sentry. This new compliance program is designed to ensure that e-commerce vendors grow and ship only plants that are fully compliant with the regulations and restrictions of the 48 states in the continental U.S.

“We are aware there are plants being shipped by e-commerce vendors in our industry that are not compliant,” said Jeff Dinslage, president of Nature Hills Nursery and NatureHills.com. “At Nature Hills, our intention is to be pro-active and completely compliant. Our Plant Sentry system makes it possible to meet the stringent growing, inspection and audit requirements for plants in every state — thereby protecting against plant diseases, plant pests, invasive plants and other threats to plant health and environmental safety.”

According to Dinslage, the Plant Sentry Compliance System was inspired by the SANC (Systems Approach to Nursery Certification) program, which was developed under the guidance of the National Plant Board, AmericanHort and other green industry leaders.

Editor's note: Read about how McKay Nursery implemented SANC here or watch a video about Star Roses and Plants' SANC certification.

To create the Plant Sentry program, Nature Hills Nursery created a comprehensive national database for plant compliance. The database includes the plant regulations and restrictions of the 48 continental U.S. states, and this database 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 Officer works closely with NatureHills.com and each nursery or fulfillment center to ensure only compliant plants are sold to customers.
The Plant Sentry system also includes a shipment certification program. Proprietary e-commerce software prevents the shipment of a restricted plant to each state. Each online order is automatically reviewed to remove restricted plants from any order (based upon the customer’s zip code), thus guaranteeing that only compliant plants are shipped. 

In the unlikely event that a restricted plant is shipped, a robust recovery and emergency communications plan is implemented. The state and the customer are notified so that proper procedures can be followed for destroying 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. In addition, horticulturists assist the Customer Service Department to answer customer 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,” said Dinslage. “We are committed to shipping only plants that are non-invasive and are free of insect pests and diseases. 

“In order to achieve the highest standard of plant health, quality and compliance, we had to design our own systems to make sure all of our plants have been inspected and plants are not shipped to customers in areas where those plants could become invasive. We even created a manual with emergency response procedures to deal with every possible contingency. This system was created to make sure we are the compliance leader in the nursery e-commerce business. We are taking everything we have learned and all of the systems we have developed to create the Plant Sentry compliance program, which can then be utilized by other nursery e-commerce companies.”

The Plant Sentry Compliance System is currently used exclusively by Nature Hills. But the program will soon be made available to other e-commerce shippers of plant material.

"Plant pest and quarantine regulations are a constant challenge for the horticulture supply chain and when things go wrong, it means headaches, liability and financial losses that can be devastating," said Craig Regelbrugge, senior vice president of AmericanHort. "Plus, the industry ends up with a black eye with environmentalists and consumers. Plant Sentry is a forward-thinking initiative to help e-commerce get ahead of this ongoing challenge. Nature Hills is to be commended for their thought leadership on this important industry issue."