Quality is job one for Superior grain inspection servicesMillions of bushels of grain are shipped out of the Port of Superior every year, and it has to be top quality.
Millions of bushels of grain are shipped out of the Port of Superior every year, and it has to be top quality.
That’s where Carl Avery and his Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) team come in. It’s their jobs to make sure overseas buyers have confidence in a product shipped from Wisconsin.
Avery is the manager of the Grain Inspection Service and has been a DATCP employee for more than 33 years. Anywhere from 15 to 30 employees, depending on the time of year, work under his direction to keep grain moving in and out of the Port of Superior.
The Grain Inspection Service works with companies on the shores of Lake Superior who ship grain around the world. Major grain exporters in Superior include CHS Inc. and Gavilon Grain LLC. No grain leaves the port without DATCP seeing it first.
The Grain Inspection Service is an independent third party evaluating the quality of the grain. It is up to someone else to name the price, meet deadlines and make the deals. It is up to the Grain Inspection Service to do its job well, making certain the buyer, who is often located half way around the world, is getting what they pay for, and protecting the integrity of the product means buyers will keep coming back for more.
“Grain inspection can be a thankless job as companies may not like when we stop or delay a load due to a failed inspection,” said Avery. “Our most important priority is a quality product for our customers around the world.”
Wheat and soybeans go through Superior as they start their global journey from the Midwest to countries in Europe, Northern Africa and South America, to name a few. While the bushels of grain number in the millions, the exact amount is dependent on market prices, weather patterns and crop production.
Inspection, weighing and grading services are provided by DATCP in accordance with guidelines established by and under the delegated authority of the Federal Grain Inspection Service (FGIS). It is critical that Avery and his team know the ins and outs of the inspection standards.
To begin testing, a train brings in a load of grain, and a sample must be drawn from each container. One train car may have three separate containers or hoppers. A 10-foot probe is used to pull a sample. Employees are connected to a holster and suspend above the car to take the sample.
“The entire process relies on the sample,” explained Avery. “If the sample is not representative of the load, the inspection cannot be done properly. The sample draws the picture of what is in the car.”
A sample is a full bag or eight pounds. Half of the sample is put into a bag to be kept in case additional testing is needed later. The other half of the sample, four pounds, is used for testing immediately.
Dockage is separated from the grain in the Carter Dockage Tester. Moisture is checked. Protein levels are evaluated. A Falling Numbers determination test is done to check the quality of the grain. When a grain sprouts, there is a change in the enzyme. This test makes sure this hasn’t happened.
Inspection parameters are particular. Even in the lights in the inspection room must meet certain specifications. Inspectors are looking for the shape, type and color of the grain kernels.
Inspecting grain on a 110-car train may take up to four hours from the first probe until the certificate is issued. Once that’s done, unloading can begin.
Because the skills are so specialized for the Grain Inspection Service, there is no formal schooling. Workers receive extensive on-the-job training. All workers are trained in all positions to allow each person to be versatile and as efficient as possible.
“We strive to save costs by having every man able to do every job. Each person can do weights, inspections, take samples and perform tests,” added Avery. “These people are good people to work with who are very good at what they do.
Grain is stored by the companies in huge silos, and quality needs to be maintained from top to bottom. Precise records need to be kept by the companies to know what is in each silo or bin. Grain is stored by where it came from where it is going or the quality.
The grain hauling business has changed over the years, becoming much more efficient. One rail car can now haul as much as five or six semis did years ago. Ships are hauling a variety of materials. If a ship had been hauling other resources besides grain into port, the ship must have a thorough stowage exam before it leaves. A clean ship is mandatory to ensure the grain quality upon arrival.
The Grain Inspection Service is busiest during shipping season, which usually runs April through November. Any individual or business can submit a sample for a grade and inspection for a fee at any time so, even when the trains aren’t coming in or ships going out, work is being done by the Grain Inspection Service.
Avery couldn’t imagine living anywhere else or doing anything else. An avid photographer, Avery has captured photos of the beautiful Lake Superior landscape as well as the work of the Grain Inspection Service.
“An astronomical amount of grain goes through these ports each year. It is mind boggling,” concluded Avery. “It is very impressive that the work done here is the key between the farmers in the Midwest and the buyers around the world.”