The State of Washington’s Grain Inspection Program holds two unique positions among all official agencies. They inspect approximately one-third of all grain leaving the United States, and they operate under a Federal/State agreement with the Federal Grain Inspection Service (FGIS) being delegated and designated.
Headquartered in Olympia, the program has laboratories at seven export facilities and six domestic offices to serve producers and marketers throughout Washington. The Othello and Quincy offices primarily provide pulse inspections, while offices in Colfax, Pasco, Spokane, and Tumwater primarily inspect grain. The agency is staffed with approximately 150 fulltime dedicated employees, with additional employees added during harvest.
Phil Garcia, Program Manager, states that being responsible for both mandatory export inspections, and permissive domestic inspections allows the State to assist all segments of Washington’s grain industry. The State’s domestic and mandatory customers both demand excellent service, and quality results, which the State is committed to providing.
Operating under the Federal/State agreement, Washington works in cooperation with their own FGIS Field Office Manager and Assistant Manager on-site in Olympia which they report to rather than the FGIS office in Kansas City. Having the FGIS Portland Field Office just across the river also means the State has immediate access to additional FGIS assistance. The Field Office Manager is always available and ready to answer their questions and work in any way to assist the State in support of the official grain inspection system. The Assistant Manager functions as a Quality Assurance Specialist and provides practical inspector testing.
Washington inspects a wide variety of grains, including Soft White Wheat grown primarily in the Pacific Northwest. To meet international buyers exacting specifications, Soft White Wheat is sometimes mixed with White Club Wheat to create Western White Wheat. Washington’s inspectors must be able to accurately determine these and other classes of wheat to maintain these critical markets. The State also inspects significant amounts of Hard Red Winter and Hard Red Spring Wheat, while corn and soybeans make up most of the grain exported.
Washington also has an agreement to provide services under the Agricultural Marketing Act for the wide variety of pulses graded on the eastern side of the State, and to perform falling number tests. The State provides official falling number tests to meet the needs of their customers. In addition to the export ships, the State inspects containers, rail cars, and auger-bottom barges capable of carrying 3,600 tons, along with warehouse lots of pulses.
Phil states that the program’s employees are their best asset and he couldn’t be prouder of them. The employee’s commitment to professionalism and accuracy to meet all their stakeholders’ expectations is exemplary. It is the employees’ pride in themselves, their hard work, and their commitment to using the latest technology that has garnered respect from their stakeholders. This commitment to quality service includes working with FGIS by providing supervision and checking samples, allowing them to obtain FGIS’s Gold Standard for service.
Employees undergo a two-year training program to become an inspector, and fifteen months of that time is spent just learning how to grade wheat. An employee must pass the test for five separate grains, including wheat, to be an inspector for the State of Washington. If they pass the test for four additional grains they are considered a senior inspector.
Washington is always willing and able to assist other official agencies in need. They have assisted others by grading edible beans and providing mycotoxin testing. Phil sees helping other agencies as a way of reinforcing the integrity of the official system, and they are never too busy to help other agencies. When reauthorization comes in a couple of years, as Phil says, “we are all in this together, it’s our livelihood.”
For Phil, knowing that the program has a direct impact on Washington State farmers in the domestic program gives him a great sense of purpose. The inspections the State performs in the domestic marketplace assists the livelihood of these producers and their families. Being part of that community is extremely gratifying. Equally gratifying is knowing that their export inspections have a profound impact on international commerce and that their documents are admissible in court around the world to prove the quality of grain in any given shipment. When the domestic and export operations are brought together, it is easy to see how an inspection certificate for a ship includes grain previously certified for a farmer working to provide for their family. Phil says, “How can you not be proud to be a part of this and find it a privilege to be part of this system.”
Phil sees the State of Washington’s Grain Inspection Program continuing to grow alongside the industry they serve. The State is adopting the latest technology and preparing qualified inspectors to meet the increased inspection demand. Most importantly, the State is working to prepare the next generation of employees to move into leadership positions as attrition occurs. Phil’s immediate goal is to ensure that the program leadership remains solid for many years and leadership transitions will be seamless to the State’s stakeholders.
No doubt the State of Washington’s Grain Inspection Program will be an integral part of Washington’s grain markets for many years to come.