Officials in Iowa and other states are continuing to warn people about unsolicited packages of seed that have been showing up in mailboxes of residents for the past week or so. Most of the packets appear to have been mailed from China. People in states across the country have been receiving these unsolicited seeds.
“If you’ve received such seeds, call us immediately at 515-281-5321,” says Robin Pruisner, the Iowa Department of Agriculture’s state entomologist and plant science bureau chief. “Don’t open the package, don’t plant the seeds, don’t throw them away. Our department will provide further directions for you to follow.”
As of July 31, the Iowa Department of Ag had received 300 notifications from Iowans. Unsolicited seed deliveries continue across the U.S., as all 50 states have now released warnings for residents. The origin of many of the seeds is suspected to be China, but USDA has identified packages coming from Malaysia, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan as well. USDA has suggested that the seeds are horticulture and weed varieties. USDA officials say the variability and unpredictability of the packages is concerning.
Seeds could be a biohazard
“Our department is working closely with USDA to trace, collect and properly destroy these unknown seeds to protect our ag community from plant and seedborne diseases,” says Mike Naig, Iowa Secretary of Agriculture. “Unlabeled seeds and seeds from unknown origins should never be planted. They pose the risk of introducing invasive plant species or seedborne diseases that do not currently exist in the United States. USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service will collect, analyze and properly destroy the seeds.”
USDA APHIS issued a news release stating this may be a “brushing scam,” where people receive unsolicited items from a seller who then posts false customer reviews to boost online sales. USDA suggests changing your passwords in your online shopping accounts if you’ve received these mystery seeds. APHIS is working closely with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Customs and Border Protection agency and the state departments of agriculture to prevent unlawful entry of prohibited seeds, and protect U.S. agriculture from invasive pests and noxious weeds.
“Another reason you should not open or handle these seeds,” Pruisner says, “is because in some of the packets, the seeds appear to be covered with an unknown seed treatment. Since it’s unlabeled, we don’t know if it’s legal or safe,” she says. “Please retain the packaging and seed, as we will make arrangements to collect the seed for investigation and then arrange for appropriate disposal.”
Threat of a new weed species
Researchers at the University of Utah say some of the packets they’ve tested contain weed species that are already here in the U.S. and some that aren’t, Pruisner notes. “All it takes is for one of those noxious weed species to end up getting planted somewhere and reproduce, and then you develop a big problem — a new type of weed growing and producing weed seeds.”
This situation reminds farmers of how Palmer amaranth came to be a herbicide-resistant weed in Iowa — and to a certain extent, waterhemp, too. It only takes a few seeds, and these weeds can multiply very quickly.
“Let’s assume these packets contain seeds that we don’t want planted here in the U.S.,” Pruisner says. “There are all kinds of shapes and sizes of different kinds of seeds being shipped in these unsolicited packages sent to farmers and other people across the United States.”