By Doug Ohlemeier
Kansas wheat Commission
The pinnacle of official grain grading resides in Kansas City at the United States Department of Agriculture's Federal Grain Inspection Service (FGIS) Technical Services Division. Participants in a Middle Eastern grain inspection team are currently participating in an intensive three-day grain grading training at the division to learn how the U.S. assures quality wheat exports through official inspection. The eight participants are inspectors and mill quality control staff representing private and governmental organizations in Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan and Kuwait.
"From this building, we are the highest level of quality control for the official U.S. grain inspection system. The answers we give here are considered final," said Larry McDonald, FGIS program analyst and division direction assistant. "Our main purpose is to facilitate the marketing of grain and help the grain markets move efficiently and economically without any bottlenecks."
FGIS instructors demonstrate how inspectors certify grain shipments to meet the buyers' grade requirements.
"If you follow our procedures, you will be better equipped to follow the same standards," McDonald said. The group will learn how inspectors distinguish between classes and varieties within each wheat class.
In the past, grain inspectors could look at a sample of wheat and immediately tell you what class it is by its kernel characteristics. "But due to cross-breeding, all of our classes of wheat do not always maintain the general characteristics of what we have known in the past," said David
Lowe, FGIS senior Board of Appeals member. Lowe is one of the top five highest-ranking grain inspectors in the United States. He and the others conduct the majority of training for overseas buyers. Lowe and McDonald assist many international wheat buyers that Kansas wheat Commission and U.S. wheat Associates bring to the Technical Center every year.
Lowe discussed the objective wheat classification system.
"We have had to learn our wheats by varieties," he said. "If you buy hard red winter and encounter a sample that is pure yellow, you might think it is soft red winter by color. But our inspectors are trained to look at varietal characteristics to differentiate between classes of wheat." More than 1,000 varieties are grown in the United States, and breeders are not required to have their wheats evaluated by the official inspection system before they are released.
"It is getting more challenging every year," said Lowe. The visit helped the participants learn more about wheat quality control, according to Dr. Hamza Hamza, U.S. wheat Associates milling and baking consultant, Cairo, Egypt.
"Most of the participants work in the quality control field for their companies. The training is very good for them. This hands-on instruction is helpful as it should help them better understand the U.S. wheat grading system. They will also be prepared to understand the quality issues that frequently appear," he said.
According to Ahmed Fakhry, the general director of the quality control division of an Alexandria, Egypt, mill, the soft wheat issue can cause problems.
"This training gives us a good idea of the kernel characteristics of hard and soft wheat and will help us better distinguish between the two and understand how the inspectors grade the wheat," he said.
Before visiting FGIS, the group was in Manhattan and viewed wheat research work conducted at USDA's Grain Marketing and Research Laboratory, Kansas State University's wheat quality lab and International Grains Program. The inspectors will also tour grain export ports in Houston and Galveston, Texas later this week.