Reading through the history of the formation of grain and feed associations on the state and national level, you will notice a foundational block was to have a uniform system for grading and inspecting grain. Prior to establishing nationally agreed upon grades, it was a tumultuous time. The importance to the grain trade of having fair and consistent procedures cannot be minimized. This is true from the farm gate to the end user.
The agency maintaining the official system is the Federal Grain Inspection Service (FGIS) which operates under USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS). FGIS maintains the official U.S. standards for inspection and grading over 10 different kinds of grain; however, here in Illinois we focus on soybeans, corn, and wheat.
The U. S. Grain Standards Act provides the guidance for consistency to the system. There are standardized procedures and approved equipment to ensure an accurate grade. The official system even has a process for appealing grades.
The official system is a special public-private partnership because the federal system includes private inspection agencies held to the same exact same standard as federal inspectors. Then, enter the network of country and terminal grain handling facilities who are buyers and sellers using the same grading standards. Should a grain elevator not grade properly, they will be discounted when the grain moves on to the next buyer in the system or lose customers to the competition.
One role the Grain and Feed Association of Illinois plays is to assist in educating our members about the grain grading standards and the approved processes. In August, we will be hosting two classes on grading corn and soybeans. Due to health and safety restriction, limits were placed on the classes. Personnel from FGIS will be present to go over official grading procedures. While there is not time at harvest to go through every step in the official process at a country elevator, they implement a reliable abbreviated version.
Our instructors will also review the line slides or standard for a kernel to be considered damaged which may be the most difficult part of grading grain. For example, this is the line slide for frost damaged soybeans and includes the description. Course participants will have several samples of corn and soybeans they will Apick@ for specified types of damage to gain familiarity with the line slides.
One other factor going into determining the grade of grain is odor determination. Normally, at harvest, odor is not an issue; however, improperly stored grain can develop an undesirable odor which will cause it to be downgraded. There have been occasions when a product is applied to cover up an odor which results in it being labeled ACOFO@ for commercially objectionable foreign odor.
The official standard for damage is an actual slide; however, FGIS has established an on-line Visual Reference Image (VRI) for all grains under their jurisdiction. Those images can be accessed by using this link: https://www.ams.usda.gov/book/visual‑reference‑images.
One misconception about grain grading is that moisture is a grading factor. Moisture is not an official grading factor since grain can be dried and the quality stays the same.
As we approach harvest, be sure and understand the grading procedures of your local elevator, and, perhaps more importantly, understand what you can do if you disagree with their grade. Due to the speed of harvest, country elevators will not keep the graded sample very long. Should you have a discrepancy, contact them right away.
The U.S. grain grading system is over 100 years old. During that time, there have been limited changes because preserving the integrity and consistency of the system is vital to a well-functioning marketplace.