Thursday, March 15, 2018

From timber to hay, inspectors keep busy and keep exports moving

Sue Welch
WSDA Plant Services Program

Keeping out invasive plant pests and diseases is a challenge for every country, especially since so many plants and plant products are shipped around the world every day. Whether it is timber products going to China or Christmas trees to Mexico, hay to Japan or seed potatoes to Uruguay, it must all be inspected and certified before it can be shipped.

Inspection of logs at the
Port of Olympia.
WSDA’s Plant Services Program has 10 environmental specialists who conduct export inspections of Washington plants and plant products bound for market in other states or overseas. These specialists focus on ornamental plants, and fruiting shrubs and trees, which carry a higher risk of moving live pests, as well as agricultural products like timber, hay and grain. WSDA has a separate program, Fruit and Vegetable Inspection, that focuses on inspecting edible produce.

The author training a
new inspector.

Most countries – including the United States - require a phytosanitary certificate, or “phyto,” before plant products are allowed in. An inspector in the country of origin issues the phytos once they have determined a product meets the requirements of the importing country.

While many of the international shipping inspections are done by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), a lot of them are done by WSDA inspectors who are trained, tested and licensed by USDA to issue international phytosanitary certificates.

The inspectors with the Plant Services Program work in log yards, vineyards, nurseries, packing warehouses, or out in growing fields. Growing season inspections are timed to match when disease symptoms will be most noticeable. So tulip bulbs are inspected for viruses during flowering, and grape plants are inspected twice, for early spring and late summer viruses. Logs, lumber and grains can be inspected year-round.
A commercial nursery greenhouse in Elma, Wash.

Inspectors examine plants for symptoms of viral, fungal or bacterial infections, or for signs of insect infestation. Sometimes, before they can be certified for export, plants must be tested and found free of specific diseases. Some products, like lumber, may need to be treated with heat or chemicals to ensure that there are no live pests hitching a ride.

From incredibly destructive insects like the Japanese beetle and gypsy moth, to diseases that can wipe out entire crops, the goal is to do all we can to keep intruders from invading new territory.

Every country has their own requirements for the import of plant products, and they vary greatly by the type of plant, and what part of the plant is being shipped. Inspectors refer to the Phytosanitary Export Database, which lists official plant health requirements for all countries, to determine whether the products are in compliance with the importing countries’ rules.
Plant Services supervisor John Wraspir (L) and
inspector Ed Stansbury (R), inspect tulip bulbs
for export.

WSDA Plant Services inspectors issued 29,584 export certificates for foreign countries in 2017. The goal of state inspectors is to help shippers meet all export requirements so the shipping process goes smoothly and Washington plant products continue to enjoy a reputation for high quality and desirability.

If you need help exporting plant products, contact WSDA Plant Services inspectors at or 360-902-1874.