**Updated Oct. 23,2017**
On Oct. 1, USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) kicked off an offshore greenhouse certification pilot program at the Miami and Atlanta plant inspection stations. This pilot will run for six months and will help APHIS and the U.S. nursery industry determine whether greenhouse certification can effectively mitigate pest and disease risks associated with plant cuttings produced in offshore facilities. APHIS and the nursery industry have been working together to develop and implement this pilot program for over a year.
On June 26, 2017, APHIS sought stakeholder feedback on the draft framework for the pilot program. It received feedback from five stakeholders within the 30-day comment period. In response, APHIS clarified language in the framework regarding irrigation requirements, screen/physical barrier maintenance, and recordkeeping and retention. It also instructed certified inspectors to record information on pathogen testing procedures and processes at each pilot facility during inspection visits per stakeholder suggestions.
**Original story from June 27, 2017**
The USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) is planning to launch a six-month offshore greenhouse certification pilot project for unrooted plant cuttings that will begin in October 2017. The pilot, the result of a collaboration between APHIS, AmericanHort, and the Society of American Florists (SAF), will include greenhouse growing operations in six Latin American countries: Mexico, Guatemala, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Costa Rica, and Colombia.
According to AmericanHort and SAF, each year the U.S. imports more than 1 billion unrooted cuttings of mostly annual and perennial plant varieties. This is an important supply chain for U.S. rooting stations and finished-plant growers, as nearly half of all plants sold in U.S. retail stores start from cuttings produced offshore. The high volume of these imports, most of which enter between December and March, presents staffing challenges for APHIS and Customs and Border Protection as they inspect for plant pests and diseases.
In a recent statement, AmericanHort stated these unrooted cuttings generally present a low risk of harboring pests and pathogens of regulatory concern. However, because of their high perishability, expediting port clearance would help to ensure vitality and benefit offshore production facilities, rooting stations, and finished plant growers.
The pilot will include greenhouse facilities that produce generally admissible, unrooted vegetative cuttings for import into the U.S. It is being designed to determine whether greenhouse certification could effectively mitigate at origin regulated pest and disease risks associated with plant cuttings produced in approved facilities.
For the duration of the pilot, facilities must adhere to the requirements outlined in the draft pilot framework, which includes standard plant pest exclusion procedures, sanitation and traceability protocols, a summary of the greenhouse certification process, an explanation of how shipments will be handled at U.S. ports of entry, and expected next steps after the pilot’s conclusion in March 2018.
Four companies — Ball Horticultural Co., Dümmen Orange, Proven Winners, and Syngenta Flowers — will participate in the initial pilot. The four companies and the associations have participated in a working group process with APHIS for more than a year to develop the pilot program framework. During the pilot, offshore-produced cuttings from these companies’ farms will be subject to the same inspection process as cuttings from other sources. The expectation is that a successful pilot will result in reduced inspections and expedited entry procedures thereafter. If successful, the program is expected to be opened to additional countries and producers.
APHIS has made the pilot framework available for public review and comment until July 20, 2017. To submit comments or obtain additional information, contact Kelsey Branch, APHIS Foreign Inspection and Certification Coordinator, at [email protected]. Questions to the associations can be sent to Craig Regelbrugge at AmericanHort or Drew Gruenburg at the Society of American Florists.