Cairo Grain Inspection Agency has a long history of providing great customer service to the barge loading facilities in Southern Illinois, Western Kentucky, and Northwest Tennessee.
Cairo Grain Inspection traces its roots back to the 1930s when it was a Board of Trade organization. The agency morphed to a USDA inspection point for a period before E. J. Abredecl purchased the business in 1940. The Woodson Tenant Company became owners in 1955 until the agency was purchased by Bob Simpson (a Woodson/Tenant employee) in 1965 and changed the name to Cairo Grain Inspection Agency. Cairo received its first modern designation in 1978.
Bob Fronabarger left his position as chief inspector with Sioux City Grain Inspection Agency to work at Cairo in 1977 and purchased the agency in 1979. The agency is a proud family business. Bob’s wife Sandra kept the books and their son Keith worked probing barges throughout high school and in summers while in college. Keith is now the owner and chief inspector. Although his father turned the reins over to Keith some time ago, he was a regular in the office until his passing.
Keith credits his dad for running such a successful business and teaching him the ropes. Keith thought about becoming an engineer at one time, but he realized grain inspection was in his blood and thought being an engineer involved too much office time. As Keith says, “where else can you take boat rides out to a barge tow in the Ohio River and watch eagles fly around while being at work”.
For many years Bob wrote everything down on paper and at the end of the month he and Sandra would be up past midnight trying to make sure they had the month’s billing correct. Keith finally got his dad to accept a computer spreadsheet to calculate their billing. Eventually, Keith wrote the agency’s first billing and certification program.
Cairo is located at the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio rivers and services the Cumberland River & Tennessee River which includes Kentucky Lake that connects to the Tombigbee waterway. Therefore, the agency’s business is primarily barge inspections. Cairo regularly services five barge loaders on the Mississippi, three on the Ohio, three on the Tennessee, and one on the Cumberland River. Cairo also samples a number of barges in transit through their area. The Cairo area is where many tow boats exchange barges making them available for inspection while they await the next tow. One location loads out railcars sporadically, and at one facility Cairo performs inbound railcar and outbound barge weighing.
The agency regularly inspects Soft Red Winter Wheat, Soybeans, Sorghum, and Corn. Keith points out that in the last ten years there has been an expansion of white corn grown in the area. Approximately 20 percent of all corn inspections are for white corn. Cairo also performs vomitoxin and aflatoxin testing.
Cairo has three full-time inspectors, including Keith and one being trained. They also have approximately 20 part time employees located throughout the area to perform sampling. Keith is quick to point out that what makes operating an official agency interesting is that every day is different. You never know what services will be needed or who will need them. Everyone in the office pitches in with sampling and other duties when needed.
Cairo is especially proud of the working relationship they have with their customers. All of Cairo’s customers have Keith’s cell phone number and know that they can reach him anytime, day or night. Keith is proud to provide a needed service to some good people and represent the official inspection system. Keith’s father’s philosophy was that if you give the customer accurate grades they will respect you. Its been that way at Cairo for almost 40 years and while technology may change, that philosophy is not about to change.