Keeping grain safeFor 107 years, the State of Wisconsin has been inspecting grain in Superior. Samples of grain are taken as ships, rail cars and trucks are loaded. The bagged samples are divided, weighed and checked for dockage, moisture content and broken kernels.
By: Maria Lockwood, Superior Telegram
For 107 years, the State of Wisconsin has been inspecting grain in Superior. Samples of grain are taken as ships, rail cars and trucks are loaded. The bagged samples are divided, weighed and checked for dockage, moisture content and broken kernels. In a lab room, tests are run to check for microtoxins. If samples don’t make the grade, said operations manager Dave Martin, it can cost companies big bucks.
Currently the grain inspection facility, a unit of the state’s Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, employs 14. There was a time in the 1970s and 80s when there were 170 full-time employees at the office, Martin said. The decline has been caused by the waning amount of grain being inspected each year, he said. In 2005, for example, they inspected 21,377 train cars, 10,719 truckloads and 70,580,156 ship bushel units of grain. Last year, those numbers had dropped to 12,329 train cars, 62 truckloads and 25,555,031 ship bushel units. According to Martin, they not only test local grain but grain shipped to them from other parts of the state.
Although the state has a hiring freeze in place right now, Martin said, the Superior office could use a few extra employees. As of Jan. 1, the agency started inspecting grain coming out of Duluth. The federal inspection agency that had been in Duluth moved out, he said.
Grain inspectors scientifically approach every batch of grain, from dozens of different types of wheat to peas, corn, sunflower seeds and more.
“We’ve got to be able to tell them all apart,” Martin said.
They do everything from complex chemical tests to physical sorting, making sure the grain makes the grade. Along with sampling and inspecting, they weigh grain in trucks, railcars and ships. The agency is self-supporting, Martin said.
The Tower Avenue reconstruction project should be a small bump in the road for grain inspectors. The grain inspection building is located across North Third Street from the Wisconsin Department of Transportation. The parking lot of the building at 404 Tower Ave. is accessible from the alley between North Fourth and Fifth streets. Drivers will just have to come to it from the back way. Construction will also mean extra travel time for some inspectors heading to one of their work sites, the General Mills elevator across Tower Avenue.