MASON CITY, Iowa - The USDA and agriculture officials across the country are issuing warnings about unsolicited shipments of foreign seeds, and advising people not to plant them.
Both the Minnesota and Iowa Departments of Agriculture have confirmed that individuals in both states have received these packets of seeds, which have come from countries like China and Uzbekistan, and in different sizes and colors.
Since this past weekend, Iowa State Entomologist and Seed Control Official Robin Pruisner and her staff have been fielding calls regarding the seeds, about 50 of them on Tuesday alone.
She and the USDA believe the mailing of these seeds are related to a deceitful sales technique called brushing.
"They get enough personal information from you, that they can set up a fake account for you on an online merchandiser, and then they fake order something. And to make you a verified buyer, they send you something. Seed appears to be right now what they're sending to people, and once they send that to you, they can write a fake review of whatever it is they're really trying to sell. They're trying to boost consumer reviews with these fake profiles."
A pattern Pruisner has noticed is that these mailings are targeting individuals as opposed to companies, and has heard from people that have or have not ordered plant seeds online.
So what happens if you receive these seeds? Pruisner advises to not open the packaging or plant the seeds.
"It's unlabeled, we don't know what it is. It could be a new weed, it could be a new invasive species we don't want here. It could contain a plant pathogen or disease that affects plants that we don't have in the United States, and we don't want it here. I'm also hearing a few reports where the seeds in the packets appear to have a seed treatment on it, which is probably an insecticide and/or fungicide. We don't know if it's safe."
In addition, Pruisner advises individuals to contact the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, at 515-281-5321.
"We can make contact with folks because we would like to get that seed as well as the packaging it was mailed in. We're working with the USDA on an investigation and that is very useful to them. Additionally, we would like to make sure that we dispose of this seed properly."
KIMT also reached out to the U.S. Postal Service regarding the seeds. In a statement, the USPS says it is aware of the mailings, and is consulting with federal, state and local partners.