State Grain Inspection, headquartered in Savage Minnesota, provides inspection throughout 17 counties in southern Minnesota, including the cities of Minneapolis and Saint Paul. Its owner, Steve Duea, refers to himself as an “Iowa Farm Boy” who attended the Minnesota State University-Mankato, and received a degree in marketing. Steve’s professional career began as a sales and marketing representative in the feed industry. After 10 years, of selling feed Steve began his own company teaching others how to sell and market feed products for the next 25 years. In 1995 Steve cofounded National Quality Inspection (NQI) to provide unofficial grain inspections.
Amanda Raadt, Agency Manager, who graduated from the University of Minnesota with a Genetics, Cell Biology and Development degree began her career during the first few summers of State Grain helping around the office. After working as a pharmacy technician and working on research projects to formulate a process for converting biomass into diesel fuel, the part time barge sampler was hooked on the grain industry. In late 2015 she took the role as Agency Manager and worked alongside her father John to continue the success of the agency.
John Raadt is the agency’s Quality Assurance Specialist. John began his grain inspection career with the Minnesota Department of Agriculture in 1975, probing trucks in Savage, Minnesota. John obtained his inspector’s license in 1979. In 1981 the state scaled back its workforce, but kept John on as a sampler until 1992, when he regained his inspector status. John remained with the state until 2005 when the state relinquished its designation and delegation. John then joined State Grain Inspection as one of its initial employees.
The State of Minnesota provided grain inspection from 1885 through 2005. When the state surrendered their designation and delegation after 120 years, GIPSA sought applicants to provide service in the newly unassigned area. NQI formed a separate division named State Grain Inspection and applied to provide service. Steve gave up his positions with NQI so that he could operate State Grain without conflict. In mid-September 2005, GIPSA divided the State of Minnesota area between seven agencies, including State Grain.
State Grain had only two and a half months to become fully functional. This meant hiring employees, establishing a fee schedule, obtaining an office/laboratory, purchasing equipment, and everything else needed for an official agency to operate. The first thing Steve did was hire Darryl Bellin who held the number two position with the State of Minnesota’s grain program. Together, Steve and Darryl made it all happen by the January 1, 2006 deadline. Steve is quick to point out that the first three months of the year are slow grain inspection months in Minnesota which helped them get started. Darryl stayed with State Grain until 2014 when he took a position with GIPSA’s Grading Services Laboratory in Kansas City.
State Grain services six shuttle railcar loaders, seven barge loaders, four container loaders, and four processed commodity loading facilities. They like to say that “they sample everything from barges to bags, and all their employees are trained to sample them.” Someone will start out sampling a barge in the morning in Savage and then in the afternoon head into downtown Minneapolis to probe a rail car. The agency routinely inspects corn, soybeans, wheat, barley, and oats, along with various processed products under the Agricultural Marketing Act. If you have eaten Cheerios, know that State Grain inspected the oats that went into them. If you had Gluten Free Cheerios, then State Grain certified that they are essentially free of barley, wheat and rye.
State Grain employs around 24 employees during the summer months. That number shrinks to around 12 during the winter. So, each year they are looking to hire new people with an eye on their potential to become inspectors. With their office just 20 miles from downtown Minneapolis and only 2 miles from an Amazon fulfilment center, finding employees that are willing to work the flexible hours and days required to service their customers is a challenge.
State Grain always has a full-time inspector in the office, so the local elevators can rely on State Grain to provide accurate service to them throughout the day as they bring samples over. Always having an experienced inspector in the office assures customers that they can get their grade and any questions answered right away.
John points out that barge loading start times are just as unpredictable as shuttle train start times. Compounding the situation is that while there are planned opening dates for the barge season, these dates often change. This year the barge loading season started 10 days earlier than scheduled, thus creating a challenge to have everyone hired, licensed, and in place for opening day. Amanda is proud of the State Grain employees who she refers to as the team, work the flexible schedules needed to service their customers.
Steve points out that there is no pool of inspectors ready to work that agencies can quickly hire from. Rather, persons must be hired, trained, and licensed by each agency, which is a timely and expensive process, especially when inspectors at State Grain must be able to grade many types of grain. Another challenge is growing the business with an assigned territory.
Steve says that although the grain industry has made great strides in providing inhouse grading, there remains a need for the independent third-party grading service provided by official agencies. He also points out how things happening on the other side of the world can affect an official agency’s business. The widening of the Panama Canal has allowed larger ships with greater tonnage to traverse the canal, subsequently increasing the number of barges loaded on the Mississippi River, and barge inspections conducted by State Grain. Four years of record harvests have also helped provide more grain for inspection.
State Grain is proud of their customer service which ranks highest in their compliance reviews. Steve says that although their customers only have State Grain to provide official service, State Grain works hard every day to earn and keep their customer’s business.
While State Grain Inspection cannot claim to have been in the business as long as their predecessor, they are proud to provide great service, want to get even better, and plan to be in the business a long time.