Seeds have been showing up, unrequested, in people's mailboxes across the country. They are showing up in Nebraska, as well. At least one person in Blair has received the seeds and turned them over to the Blair Police Department.
Kathleen Cue, a Nebraska Extension Educator in Dodge County, has not yet received calls but that doesn't mean there is not a problem with these seed packages.
"There's some colossal problems we've brought into this country just because of the unknowing transport of plant materials and that's the danger these seeds represent," Cue said. "There's a possibility these seeds could be inadvertently bringing in a weed species that's rampant or fill in the blank."
The seed distribution is thought to be a brushing scam.
"A brushing scam is where if you're advertising a product and don't have enough of a reputation for people to recognize the branding. You create false email accounts, send seeds out to whoever, then they can say these people ordered the items and refer to the emails," Cue said. "If they get enough views, it brings up their standing on different websites and gives them credibility."
Cue gave examples of those colossal problems.
"Dutch elm disease, emerald ash borer, chestnut blight, and Japanese beetles are just a few examples of infested/infected plant materials coming into the United States and profoundly changing how our native plants/crops fare," she said.
Cue said she gives kudos to the U.S. Department of Agriculture for rising up and being aware of the potential for disaster from bringing in something accidentally.
"We have had a long history of bringing in plant materials that aren't inspected," she said.
Cue said there are inconsistencies with these packages.
"It's not just one type of seed. It's all over the place," she said. "There is no consistency in what seeds are sent, what states receive them and who's chosen to receive the seeds."
As more people have time at home many have turned to gardening this year.
"It seems ironic that China would be sending seeds ," Cue said. "I've seen people jump into gardening with both feet this season in a way I have never seen before and I think it's because people are at home to do them."
Cue said a consequence of this is that box stores and online catalog companies that carry seeds can't fill the orders.
"They have been inundated with requests they can't fill because they've never anticipated this level of interest in seeds," she said.
Cue said their main concern is that seeds can be transporters of diseases.
"Sometimes in the chafe or plant material that's not seeds there can be diseases that are harbored or it could be a weed species that could outpace our native things," she said. "You never want to plant something unknown with no history of that because of the potential for spreading insects or disease or a weed problem. We just have to be aware of this sort of thing to stop the spread of it."
Christin Kamm, public information officer for the Nebraska Department of Agriculture, said the department has received several reports of residents receiving unsolicited packages of seeds in the mail in recent days.
"Our team has, and will continue to, work with USDA Animal Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) on any reports received in Nebraska," she said. "If you received one of these packages, do not open the sealed seed packages and do not plant the seeds."
Kamm said keep the sealed seed packets and mailing packaging (including the mailing label) together in a sealed bag and contact the local USDA APHIS office for further instruction.
Anyone receiving one of the packages should contact the local USDA APHIS office at 402-434-2346.
"Please be prepared to share with them your phone number and contact information. Further guidance on handling of the packages will be provided to those that call,” she said.