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Caution urged after mystery seed mailings

mystery seeds

Unsolicited packages of seeds, many involving addresses from China, have been reported to agriculture officials by U.S. citizens from coast to coast — photo courtesy Washington State Department of Agriculture

State agriculture officials are warning residents to be wary of unsolicited packages of seeds mailed to them. Reports have surfaced from South Carolina, Texas, Louisiana, Alabama, Tennessee, Virginia, Kansas, Washington and Ohio, to name a few.

The South Carolina Department of Agriculture and Clemson University’s Regulatory Services division are working together to investigate after that state’s residents reported receiving packages they did not order.

Similar reports, many involving addresses from China, have been made to agriculture officials across the country. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal Plant Health Inspection Service is collecting reports and coordinating a national investigation.

If you receive an unsolicited package containing seeds:

• Do not open the seed packets or handle the seeds.

• Do not plant unidentified seeds. They may be invasive species that could displace or destroy native ecosystems.

• Retain the seeds and packaging and put them in a zip-top bag.

• Contact the APHIS Smuggling Interdiction and Trade Compliance (SITC) program.

APHIS SITC may be reached at their website, by phone at 800-877-3835 or by email SITC.Mail@aphis.usda.gov. More guidance from USDA is expected soon.

“Whatever the reason for these mailings, it’s important to use caution when it comes to unidentified seeds,” said South Carolina Department of Agriculture Assistant Commissioner Derek Underwood, who oversees the agency’s Consumer Protection Division.

“If these seeds should bear invasive species, they may be a threat to our environment and agriculture,” said Steve Cole, director of Clemson’s Regulatory Services unit. “We don’t want unknown species planted or thrown out where they may wind up sprouting in a landfill.”

Answers to further questions may obtained from the South Carolina Department of Agriculture’s Seed Lab though email at seedlab@scda.sc.gov or by phone at 803-737-9717, Clemson University’s Department of Plant Industry (invasives@clemson.edu, https://www.clemson.edu/public/regulatory/plant-industry/invasive/) or a local Clemson Extension Office (https://www.clemson.edu/extension/co).

If you farm in another state, contact your state Extension weed specialist or local county Extension agent.

Clemson University contributed this article.