“You’re losing money if you don’t know exactly where your grain is,” Hurburgh explains. “You lose money on the blend. You’re potentially losing money because bad quality starts to build up and you wonder why… There are a number of ways you can lose money if you don’t know; and ways that you could make money if you do know.”
Put simply, the primary incentive for imposing quality management systems: It’s good business and effective management.
“Future tracing technology will enable the grain industry to trace grain back to the field level,” Herrman explains. “You may be able to identify the source of grain to individual farms or fields. It would be a composite, but would be providing more detail than current record-keeping systems.”
Added benefits of a QMS
“I find it is characteristic, in any industry, that we tend to be data rich and information poor,” Herrman says.
While it may be customary to collect more records than are utilized, capturing the value of those records is a function of management — and what you do with this paperwork could hold the key to greater, less obvious, returns.
“As an industry we have to focus in on the cost-benefit aspects of quality management systems with traceability, not the regulatory aspects,” Ravlin says.
“Once you start paying closer attention to your record keeping, you find there are ways to improve process efficiency,” Dr. Dirk Maier, chair of the Department of Grain Science and Industry, Kansas State University, explains. “It’s not so much about traceability, which is for food safety; it’s about taking a quality management approach. By taking a process approach, you improve the efficiency of operations and ensure quality at each point — and in everything you do in a quality manner.”
According to Hurburgh, QMS and traceability can be a source of profit — not a source of cost — if it’s approached in the proper way: “If a company does just enough to comply, saying, ‘What’s the minimum I have to do to get the inspector off my back?’ — if that’s the attitude, it’ll be a cost. You’ll have a stack of paper and not get anything out of it. However, if you approach it positively, ‘This is a process of evaluating and restructuring my operations to be more efficient in today’s economy’ — then it will be a benefit and not a cost.”
In the long run, business will take over in terms of spreading the notion that perhaps operations need to be managed a little more industrially, Hurburgh says: “The concept of quality management and input/output tracking is not new; it’s just new to agriculture.”
Tradition aside, the bottom line economics speak for themselves. The added bonus, Hurburgh says, QMS and open lines of communication change the culture of an organization by reducing insurance costs, improving employee training and lowing turnover.
“You get collateral benefits along the way as you tighten up business practices,” he says. “Oh, and you now have a system that makes it easy to comply with bioterror regulations, documentation for workers, safety programs, security — all these process-based regulatory programs can be swept into quality management systems. The compliance becomes much cheaper than doing each step independently one at a time.”
Trade organizations are taking notice of the need for QMS training and continuing education. GEAPS, specifically, has been exploring the development of a distance education program — and even taking it another step by discussing credentialing through Kansas State.
Hurburgh predicts: “Whether it’s certification or credentialing, there’s a certain formality to it. Continuing education keeps employees aware of new developments and technology in the grain industry. I could see this taking off — really because it’s going to make companies money.”
He also feels that under this model companies will find that certified employees make better decisions, and have fewer problems overall. Perhaps the balance may lie between a level of self-imposed certification rather than one that is dictated by a regulatory agency.
“Achieving compliance through participating in voluntary programs is desirable,” Herrman says. “In the future, the grain industry will be able to provide an enhanced level of traceability without any major infrastructure alterations. I don’t think we need to sacrifice the efficiencies that exist in our U.S. grain handling and marketing system to do so.”