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Author Topic: Small-Lot Seed Importation to USA  (Read 711 times)

TNAndy

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Small-Lot Seed Importation to USA
« on: November 12, 2019, 02:44:35 AM »
I just accomplished my first legal importation of coffee seeds for planting from Jamaica and I'd like to share my experience.  Moderators, if you think this might be helpful to other members going forward, please consider making this thread a sticky.

As you might imagine, there are several steps required to import seeds for planting legally.

  • Obtain Level 1 Access with the USDA.  https://identitymanager.eems.usda.gov/registration/index.aspx  You will fill out a short application that includes your name and email address among other things.  Once submitted, they will send you an email.  When you reply to the email, this verifies that you are the owner of that email address.
  • Obtain Level 2 Access.  Same website as above.  This is a much longer form to fill out.  Again, they will email a response.  You must take a printout of that response email to a physical USDA location with a government issued ID to prove you are the person associated with the account and email address.  In my case, I had a lot of trouble receiving the response email.  For some reason, my ISP was not transmitting it to my inbox.  Fortunately, the eAuth help desk was, in fact, quite helpful.  I don't remember now whether it was Level 1 or Level 2 that requires you to create a password, but it is a time-killing ordeal trying to come up with a password that they will accept.  Even if you follow the instructions to the letter, it's likely to require multiple attempts.  Once you are successful, be sure to write it down and perhaps save it to your browser.  You will need to log in every so often or your password will expire.
  • You will need to know at least the genus of the plant seeds you want to import.  You need to consult the list of plants that are allowed/disallowed for importation.  https://www.aphis.usda.gov/import_export/plants/manuals/ports/downloads/plants_for_planting.pdf  Plants that are invasive (kudzu), parasitic (dodder, sandalwood), and other undesirable species are definitely on the prohibited list.  You may be allowed to import certain seeds from some countries and not others.  You may be allowed to import certain seeds to some states and not others.  In my case, Coffea species are prohibited from import when destined for Hawaii or Puerto Rico.  Since I'm growing my plants in Tennessee, they're OK.
  • Login to the ePermits system.  https://www.eauth.usda.gov/Login/login.aspx
  • Click "Create/Renew/Amend Application".  Follow the bouncing ball and fill out the online application form.  You can apply to import several species from different countries on the same permit.  In my case, I applied for Coffea arabica from Jamaica, Bursera species from Jamaica, Commiphora species from Israel, and Protium species from Mexico.  A permit is good for three years and can be renewed.  You can import multiple small lots under the same permit.  For instance, I could import some coffee seeds from Jamaica this year and another batch of coffee seeds from Jamaica next year.
  • If you met all of the conditions set forth in the Plants for Planting Manual, you should receive an approval within a few days.  Print and read the permit.  It will have several pages of rules and conditions for a small-lot seed importation.  For instance, small lots are limited to 50 or fewer seeds or 10 grams of seeds per species, whichever is less.  You are limited to 50 or fewer species.
  • You will need green and yellow shipping labels.  This is a separate request from your permit.  You will need to designate the Plant Inspection Station (PIS) where you want your seeds inspected.  You will receive the shipping labels attached to an email.  Since I knew I would be flying back through Atlanta, I chose the Georgia Plant Inspection Station.  The shipping labels are pre-addressed to the PIS you chose.  Again, I had some trouble receiving the shipping labels.  I had to contact my ISP in order to resolve the email problem.
  • You will need a shipping container (box) and resealable plastic bags for your seeds, one bag per species.  The box must have the shipping label attached.  You will need to include a copy of your permit and a seed list.  The seed list must include information as set forth in the permit.  The resealable bags are labeled with the name of the shipper, country of origin, and at least the genus--preferably genus and species.  You will need to include postage inside the box for the shipment from the Plant Inspection Station to your home.  I know for a fact the Georgia PIS can ship using FedEx.  I'm pretty sure they can ship UPS, and I strongly suspect they can ship USPS Priority mail.
  • I collected my coffee seeds personally.  You (or the shipper) must clean your seeds of all pulp, seed husks, other plant parts, and soil--in other words, nothing but seeds go in the bag.  Be absolutely sure to cull any seeds with any signs of insect damage or disease.  If the Plant Inspection Station doesn't like what they see, they can destroy the entire batch of seeds.  As I said above, for small lots, you are limited to 50 or fewer seeds or 10 grams per species, whichever is less.  You may import no more than 50 species at a time--in other words, no more than 50 bags of seeds.  Seeds imported via a Small-Lot Permit do not require a Phytosanitary Certificate.
  • Seal the bags.  Make sure you have included all the properly labeled seed bags, seed list, permit, and postage inside your box.  Tape the box closed.
  • I hand carried my seed box in my carry-on luggage for the flight home.  When you arrive at immigration, you must declare that you are importing seeds.  I did this at the kiosk.  When I met the CBP agent in the booth, he called over an escort.  The escort took me to the "items to declare" station.  The Customs and Border Protection agents will X-ray your luggage.  Hand them the box containing your seeds.  In Atlanta, they will hand-deliver your seeds to the PIS.
  • Hopefully your seeds will pass inspection and you will receive them within a few days.  In my case, I arrived in Atlanta Sunday evening and FedEx delivered my seeds the following Wednesday.

I have not yet tried to import seeds from a country I did not visit.  The inbound shipment goes directly to the PIS.  My understanding is the PIS has a deal with the shipping companies so that the inbound shipping fees cover both the trip into the USA and the trip from the PIS to your home.  Having not tried it myself, I cannot confirm this.  If I succeed in having someone else ship seeds to me, I will post that experience to this thread and add a link to that post here.

This is key:  If you have any questions, ask the Plant Inspection Station people, not the Customs and Border Protection people.  CBP, especially the woman I spoke with in Washington DC, may not know what they are talking about.  In my case, I received incorrect information from CBP whereas the lady at the PIS was both knowledgeable and very helpful.

I can hardly wait for late next May when the weather here becomes ideal for planting coffee seeds.  If they sprout, I will be growing both Hawaiian and Jamaican varieties of coffee trees.  By the way, it is much easier, but yet not trivial, to bring seeds from Hawaii to the mainland.  I'll cover that in a separate post, too.

fruitlovers

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Re: Small-Lot Seed Importation to USA
« Reply #1 on: November 12, 2019, 04:52:40 AM »
Very informative and well spelled out. Some important corrections.
6) You are not limited to 50 seeds or 200 grams of each species. It's just that they don't want you to put more than that in each individual bag. So if, for example, you want to bring in 200 seeds of coffee, then you would use 4 bags containing 50 seeds each. (This rule is so that the inspection agent can clearly and rapidly see through the bag if there is any problem, not to limit the amount of seeds you bring in.)
7) Most small seed lot permits being issued now are ONLY for mailing seeds through the mail. Most permit issued now do not allow to bring in seeds in person on a flight. They used to allow this, but have recently changed it. Check your permit carefully to see if you can still bring seeds in person. Also if you are allowed to bring seeds in person on your permit, make sure you are flying into the USA at an airport that has a USDA APHIS PPQ inspection station. Not all airports have them. Also you will have to fly in between 8-4 if you want the seeds released to you. Otherwise they will have to be mailed to you later. Also allow at least an extra hour for the inspection if you have a connecting flight.
8) Not all inspection stations require additional postage for remailing to you for a package being mailed for another country. For example, the Honolulu office forwards mail after inspection at no charge. I've heard that others, like Miami inspection station don't, so check with your plant inspection station. In addition to country collected, name of collector, now inspection stations are asking that an invoice be included. If there are  lot of species being imported make sure your shipper lists them in latin in alphabetical order, and that none of them are in the black list (prohibited species).
12) If you are using Fed Ex or UPS for forwarding you can just include your courier account number in the information inside the box. No postage necessary.
If you are carrying seeds in person on a flight, and your permit allows this, make sure to ask the CBP (customs border patrol) agent to escort you to the airport USDA plant inspection station. This is extremely important. CBP agents are not only misinformed, or uninformed, they also PREFER to just confiscate all your seeds under any pretense as this makes things a lot easier for them.
If you are attempting to use your small seed lot permit for the first time, i strongly recommend that you just make it a very small amount of seeds that you will not cry about if you lose. The whole procedure is more complicated than it needs to be. But after you've done it once or twice you can be more certain there will not be any snags along the way.
Oscar

TNAndy

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Re: Small-Lot Seed Importation to USA
« Reply #2 on: November 12, 2019, 01:01:17 PM »
Very informative and well spelled out. Some important corrections.
6) You are not limited to 50 seeds or 200 grams of each species. It's just that they don't want you to put more than that in each individual bag. So if, for example, you want to bring in 200 seeds of coffee, then you would use 4 bags containing 50 seeds each. (This rule is so that the inspection agent can clearly and rapidly see through the bag if there is any problem, not to limit the amount of seeds you bring in.)

Well I'll be...  You're right.  There's no specific limitation that says separate bags cannot contain the same species.  Here's the relevant part:
"(ii) There are a maximum of 50 seeds of 1 taxon (taxonomic category such as genus, species, cultivar, etc.) per packet; or a maximum weight not to exceed 10 grams of seed of 1 taxon per packet;
(iii) There are a maximum of 50 seed packets per shipment;"

In my case, I collected 38 disease and pest free coffee seeds and was unable to locate any Bursera seeds at all.  I've had excellent germination rates with coffee as long as I plant in late May or June, but even if I get only one healthy coffee tree out of these seeds, I'll count this experience as a resounding victory.

It doesn't look like anyone can use a small lot permit to import a coconut.

Quote
7) Most small seed lot permits being issued now are ONLY for mailing seeds through the mail. Most permit issued now do not allow to bring in seeds in person on a flight. They used to allow this, but have recently changed it. Check your permit carefully to see if you can still bring seeds in person. Also if you are allowed to bring seeds in person on your permit, make sure you are flying into the USA at an airport that has a USDA APHIS PPQ inspection station. Not all airports have them. Also you will have to fly in between 8-4 if you want the seeds released to you. Otherwise they will have to be mailed to you later. Also allow at least an extra hour for the inspection if you have a connecting flight.

Here's the text in my permit regarding this:
"8. Hand carry through personal baggage without PIS inspection is not authorized under this permit. All shipments utilizing this permit must enter the United States through a USDA PIS via Parcel Post, Air mail, or must be surrendered at the terminal for movement to the PIS. All Costs are the responsibility of the permit holder."  (emphasis mine)

How recently was this change made?  My permit was approved in February 2019, so if they changed the rules, it must have been very recently.  Hopefully, the rules in my permit are grandfathered.

So if I fly through Charlotte next year (which has no local PIS) would the seed shipment need to be mailed to the Atlanta, GA PIS?  Or do you think this would be a case of "sorry, you used the wrong airport"?

Quote
8) Not all inspection stations require additional postage for remailing to you for a package being mailed for another country. For example, the Honolulu office forwards mail after inspection at no charge. I've heard that others, like Miami inspection station don't, so check with your plant inspection station.

It's interesting that different Plant Inspection Stations would have different rules.  The lady at the Atlanta, GA PIS said they do forward mail. 

Quote
In addition to country collected, name of collector, now inspection stations are asking that an invoice be included. If there are  lot of species being imported make sure your shipper lists them in latin in alphabetical order, and that none of them are in the black list (prohibited species).

Here's what my permit says:
"(i) A typed or legibly printed seed list/invoice accompanies each shipment with the name of the collector/shipper, the botanical names (at least to genus, preferably to species level) listed alphabetically, as well as the country of origin, and country shipped from, for each taxon. Each seed packet is clearly labeled with the name of the collector/shipper, the country of origin, and the scientific name at least to the genus, and preferably to the species level. The invoice/seed list may provide a code for each lot, which may be used on the seed packets in lieu of the full list of required information. In this case, each packet must at least include the appropriate code, which is referenced to the entry for that packet on the seed list/invoice."

Fortunately, I was prepared with my seed list, copy of my permit, and my properly labeled ziplock bags, all included as if I were mailing the shipment to the PIS.

Quote
12) If you are using Fed Ex or UPS for forwarding you can just include your courier account number in the information inside the box. No postage necessary.

Well, I'm just a hobbyist, not any kind of commercial grower.  I don't have an account with any shippers.  I have donated surplus plants at the local Master Gardener plant sale, but this sure isn't what I do for a living.

Quote
If you are carrying seeds in person on a flight, and your permit allows this, make sure to ask the CBP (customs border patrol) agent to escort you to the airport USDA plant inspection station.

They didn't offer me a choice in this.  The CBP officer in the booth called the escort over and she led us directly to the CBP "stuff to declare" inspection area.

Quote
This is extremely important. CBP agents are not only misinformed, or uninformed, they also PREFER to just confiscate all your seeds under any pretense as this makes things a lot easier for them.
If you are attempting to use your small seed lot permit for the first time, i strongly recommend that you just make it a very small amount of seeds that you will not cry about if you lose. The whole procedure is more complicated than it needs to be. But after you've done it once or twice you can be more certain there will not be any snags along the way.

Yeah, I'd say that's excellent advice.  Happily, I was entirely successful on my first try.  As I said, read the rules and conditions in your permit carefully.

pineislander

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Re: Small-Lot Seed Importation to USA
« Reply #3 on: November 12, 2019, 10:16:15 PM »
It doesn't look like anyone can use a small lot permit to import a coconut.
Things sure do change. 30 years ago a friend of mine made some good money with dry coconuts and a Magic Marker down by the cruise ships in the USVI. He would ask $5 to write an address on the coconut and mail it back home to people. The post office had no problem and it got him some good drinking money!

fruitlovers

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Re: Small-Lot Seed Importation to USA
« Reply #4 on: November 13, 2019, 02:03:22 AM »
It doesn't look like anyone can use a small lot permit to import a coconut.
Things sure do change. 30 years ago a friend of mine made some good money with dry coconuts and a Magic Marker down by the cruise ships in the USVI. He would ask $5 to write an address on the coconut and mail it back home to people. The post office had no problem and it got him some good drinking money!
It's still legal to send coconuts within the USA, as long as they are unsprouted. US Virgin Islands part of USA. We can also send from Hawaii. The post i think is about mailing coconuts from outside of the USA. That is illegal.
Oscar

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Re: Small-Lot Seed Importation to USA
« Reply #5 on: November 13, 2019, 02:16:44 AM »
Very informative and well spelled out. Some important corrections.
6) You are not limited to 50 seeds or 200 grams of each species. It's just that they don't want you to put more than that in each individual bag. So if, for example, you want to bring in 200 seeds of coffee, then you would use 4 bags containing 50 seeds each. (This rule is so that the inspection agent can clearly and rapidly see through the bag if there is any problem, not to limit the amount of seeds you bring in.)

Well I'll be...  You're right.  There's no specific limitation that says separate bags cannot contain the same species.  Here's the relevant part:
"(ii) There are a maximum of 50 seeds of 1 taxon (taxonomic category such as genus, species, cultivar, etc.) per packet; or a maximum weight not to exceed 10 grams of seed of 1 taxon per packet;
(iii) There are a maximum of 50 seed packets per shipment;"

In my case, I collected 38 disease and pest free coffee seeds and was unable to locate any Bursera seeds at all.  I've had excellent germination rates with coffee as long as I plant in late May or June, but even if I get only one healthy coffee tree out of these seeds, I'll count this experience as a resounding victory.

It doesn't look like anyone can use a small lot permit to import a coconut.

Quote
7) Most small seed lot permits being issued now are ONLY for mailing seeds through the mail. Most permit issued now do not allow to bring in seeds in person on a flight. They used to allow this, but have recently changed it. Check your permit carefully to see if you can still bring seeds in person. Also if you are allowed to bring seeds in person on your permit, make sure you are flying into the USA at an airport that has a USDA APHIS PPQ inspection station. Not all airports have them. Also you will have to fly in between 8-4 if you want the seeds released to you. Otherwise they will have to be mailed to you later. Also allow at least an extra hour for the inspection if you have a connecting flight.

Here's the text in my permit regarding this:
"8. Hand carry through personal baggage without PIS inspection is not authorized under this permit. All shipments utilizing this permit must enter the United States through a USDA PIS via Parcel Post, Air mail, or must be surrendered at the terminal for movement to the PIS. All Costs are the responsibility of the permit holder."  (emphasis mine)

How recently was this change made?  My permit was approved in February 2019, so if they changed the rules, it must have been very recently.  Hopefully, the rules in my permit are grandfathered.

So if I fly through Charlotte next year (which has no local PIS) would the seed shipment need to be mailed to the Atlanta, GA PIS?  Or do you think this would be a case of "sorry, you used the wrong airport"?

Quote
8) Not all inspection stations require additional postage for remailing to you for a package being mailed for another country. For example, the Honolulu office forwards mail after inspection at no charge. I've heard that others, like Miami inspection station don't, so check with your plant inspection station.

It's interesting that different Plant Inspection Stations would have different rules.  The lady at the Atlanta, GA PIS said they do forward mail. 

Quote
In addition to country collected, name of collector, now inspection stations are asking that an invoice be included. If there are  lot of species being imported make sure your shipper lists them in latin in alphabetical order, and that none of them are in the black list (prohibited species).

Here's what my permit says:
"(i) A typed or legibly printed seed list/invoice accompanies each shipment with the name of the collector/shipper, the botanical names (at least to genus, preferably to species level) listed alphabetically, as well as the country of origin, and country shipped from, for each taxon. Each seed packet is clearly labeled with the name of the collector/shipper, the country of origin, and the scientific name at least to the genus, and preferably to the species level. The invoice/seed list may provide a code for each lot, which may be used on the seed packets in lieu of the full list of required information. In this case, each packet must at least include the appropriate code, which is referenced to the entry for that packet on the seed list/invoice."

Fortunately, I was prepared with my seed list, copy of my permit, and my properly labeled ziplock bags, all included as if I were mailing the shipment to the PIS.

Quote
12) If you are using Fed Ex or UPS for forwarding you can just include your courier account number in the information inside the box. No postage necessary.

Well, I'm just a hobbyist, not any kind of commercial grower.  I don't have an account with any shippers.  I have donated surplus plants at the local Master Gardener plant sale, but this sure isn't what I do for a living.

Quote
If you are carrying seeds in person on a flight, and your permit allows this, make sure to ask the CBP (customs border patrol) agent to escort you to the airport USDA plant inspection station.

They didn't offer me a choice in this.  The CBP officer in the booth called the escort over and she led us directly to the CBP "stuff to declare" inspection area.

Quote
This is extremely important. CBP agents are not only misinformed, or uninformed, they also PREFER to just confiscate all your seeds under any pretense as this makes things a lot easier for them.
If you are attempting to use your small seed lot permit for the first time, i strongly recommend that you just make it a very small amount of seeds that you will not cry about if you lose. The whole procedure is more complicated than it needs to be. But after you've done it once or twice you can be more certain there will not be any snags along the way.

Yeah, I'd say that's excellent advice.  Happily, I was entirely successful on my first try.  As I said, read the rules and conditions in your permit carefully.
A lot of people, including USDA inspectors misunderstand the rule of only 50 seeds. Unfortunately a lot of the rules are written in ambiguous language and i've had to clear a lot of that up the USDA headquarters in Maryland over the years. Often times they change their interpretation of the rules, or make the rules more stringent over the years.
It looks like very recently USDA is moving toward disallowing people from bringing in seeds with small seed lot permit in person. If your permit says you can then you are grandfathered in. But only until you reapply for the permit, and then they can change it. And they won't warn you they changed it. So make sure to read it every time you renew it. Ofcourse you can still bring seeds or plants in person if you were able to obtain a phytosanitary certificate in the country of origin.
If you fly into the wrong airport, with no USDA office, you're out of luck. The CBP is not going to forward anything for you. Only USDA does that. And if there is no USDA office at that airport you're going to lose all your seeds.
Don't think you need to be a business to have a FedEx or UPS account. But you can check with them.
Oscar

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Re: Small-Lot Seed Importation to USA
« Reply #6 on: November 13, 2019, 11:45:16 AM »
The bit about surrendering at an airport is very interesting!

My permit (issued in 2017) says -
5. Hand carry through personal baggage is not authorized under this permit and all shipments utilizing this permit must enter the United States through a USDA Plant Inspection Station via Parcel Post or Air mail.

I guess they make changes to the permit as the situation warrants.  I will be eager to see what my 2020 permit says! 

When I travel, I carry a seed collecting kit, and one of the things in it are a couple of padded envelopes with the green and yellow USDA PIS address labels already attached. My hubby always laughs when I peel off of a tour group to go in search fruit, or a post office, in some foreign country!  I got lost in Cartagena that way...

Cheers,
Carolyn

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Re: Small-Lot Seed Importation to USA
« Reply #7 on: November 14, 2019, 01:45:40 AM »
The bit about surrendering at an airport is very interesting!

My permit (issued in 2017) says -
5. Hand carry through personal baggage is not authorized under this permit and all shipments utilizing this permit must enter the United States through a USDA Plant Inspection Station via Parcel Post or Air mail.

I guess they make changes to the permit as the situation warrants.  I will be eager to see what my 2020 permit says! 

When I travel, I carry a seed collecting kit, and one of the things in it are a couple of padded envelopes with the green and yellow USDA PIS address labels already attached. My hubby always laughs when I peel off of a tour group to go in search fruit, or a post office, in some foreign country!  I got lost in Cartagena that way...

Cheers,
Carolyn
If possible it's always safer to mail seeds back home rather than try to bring them in person, even if your permit allows it.
When on fruit safaris i always carry plenty of zip lock bags, marking pen, moist medium, like vermiculite, and pectinase enzyme to clean hard to clean seeds, as well as the green and yellow labels and copies of my permit. Padded envelopes is also a good idea as they are hard to find in some countries.
Oscar

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Re: Small-Lot Seed Importation to USA
« Reply #8 on: November 14, 2019, 03:30:20 PM »
The pectinase enzyme is interesting! I have brought back some really hard-to-clean seeds, and I used a ton of elbow grease to get them prepped. I generally dont use vermiculite, since I manage to get it all over the place. I like those little water crystals that you can rehydrate. They are clear, so it's easy to find the seeds, and I only rehydrate them when needed so they take up no room.
I agree woth Oscar about mailing the seeds back. Most airports, the PIS is not actually in the airport.

Happy Hunting!

Carolyn

 

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