US: SAF chimes in on plant inspection process

SAF recently represented the floral industry’s voice in a process that, ultimately, influences plant production in the United States.

SAF Senior Director of Government Relations Lin Schmale participated in the Floriculture and Nursery Industry Strategic Planning Meeting, coordinated annually by the leadership of USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS). SAF Government Relations Council Chair Troy Lucht, of Plant Source International and Malmborg’s Inc. in Rogers, Minn., who was in town for an Affordable Care Act briefing, also attended the meeting.

Schmale said SAF has worked for more than 20 years with APHIS — which works to protect U.S. agriculture from invasive pests and diseases — on programs to improve port inspections and overall regulatory approaches that differentiate between truly high-risk imports and those which, because of improved production practices or for other reasons, do not threaten American crops or the environment.

As plant-cutting imports have increased over the past 20 years, so have the voices claiming that plants and flowers are a major and dangerous pathway for the importation of harmful pests and diseases. “A delay at the port for these highly perishable cuttings can easily cost a company tens of thousands of dollars,” said Schmale. “So there’s a lot at stake here.”

The meeting was an opportunity to “keep the communication lines open” between government and industry, and for APHIS to gather feedback on how current regulations can better reflect the realities of modern economies, as they relate to imports, Schmale said. Most bedding plants — geranium, petunia, calibrachoa and many of the other kinds of plants used in American gardens, patio plantings and landscapes — now begin life as vegetative cuttings from farms in Central America and even Africa. They are then shipped as cuttings to U.S. growers, who finish their production and send them on to the U.S. retail stores. Poinsettias and other indoor plants follow the same patterns.

“I'm very excited because [APHIS is] trying to be pragmatic in their solutions and responses,” Lucht said. “The leadership is very much about finding process and controls that work to achieve not only APHIS goals but match up with current economic production protocols.”

Schmale agreed, and said APHIS leadership is “really outstanding among all of the federal agencies in reaching out to its stakeholders, and actually listening to what we have to say about how their policies are impacting our industry.” Schmale said APHIS’s mission, of safeguarding American agriculture while at the same time facilitating safe trade, “puts them in a key position to impact our activities at offshore farms, at the ports, and here in the U.S. And they tell us that our meeting is one of the very best they have.”

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