Once a railcar is loaded, it must be sealed with an 8-inch cable seal, according to Hammes. Properly sealing the railcar is an added guarantee that the quality will be preserved.
"We have very few quality claims on grain because of the effectiveness of the seal, and also the grain is in transit for a short period of time," says Hammes. "If a gate was leaking, you may have quantity loss, but quality loss is very rare."
Union Pacific's system upgrades in recent years have enabled the company to shorten the shipping time, thus reducing the likelihood that quality would deteriorate. "From a systems standpoint we've been able to increase our velocity and it has helped our individual commodity groups move in four to five days in what used to take five to 10 days four short years ago," says Hammes.
On-time delivery of railcars also helps preserve grain quality by not holding up other processes further down the road. Union Pacific achieves this by keeping the track in good condition, adding capacity, making sure its locomotive fleet is in good repair, and providing qualified operators to run the trains.
Grain exporters do everything they can to preserve quality from harvest all the way through exportation because they must live up to high expectations. USDA-GIPSA is America's quality assurance team, and the organization ensures that deliveries on quality promises are met.
Robert Lijewski, assistant director, Policies and Procedures Branch of USDA-GIPSA says, "U.S. commodities are among the safest, most reliable in the world."
"The United States is recognized as a reliable supplier of high-quality grain from year to year," says Lijewski. "In recent years, overseas importers have reported quality discrepancies on only 0.1% or 0.2%, by weight, of grain certified by FGIS."
Part of the reason importers rely on the United States is because we deliver the exact quality grain specified by the customer.
"Importers have come to expect uniformity of quality within shipments, and consistency between shipments," says Lijewski. "When an importer buys U.S. No. 2 quality, for example, they know that's what they will receive."
GIPSA's inspection process is responsible for the United States' solid reputation. At export facilities where GIPSA personnel perform online inspection and weighing services, GIPSA supervisors perform daily routine inspections of the grain elevator to monitor the grain flow, check for grain spillage and perform a safety inspection of the facility. GIPSA also performs sanitation inspections at facilities packing government purchased commodities such as flour, rice and beans, which involve a thorough inspection of the entire processing plant and the immediate area surrounding the plant. GIPSA then shares sanitation inspection results with the Food & Drug Administration.
GIPSA also gets help from private and state agencies to help share the enormous responsibility of testing and weighing exports.
"Currently there are 43 private and seven state agencies that are designated by GIPSA to provide official services under the United States Grain Standards Act [USGSA]," says Lijewski. "These agencies operate at inland markets and typically provide inspection and weighing services for railcars, truck lots, barges and export containers."
Additionally, there are five states that are delegated by GIPSA to provide official services at export port locations. The delegated states have the added responsibility for providing inspection and weighing of cargoes loaded aboard ships and ocean-going barges.
In certain instances GIPSA relies on other non-GIPSA testing laboratories, such as state government laboratories, USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service Laboratory and commercial laboratories that are accredited by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), to provide official testing results on processed grain products. GIPSA recognizes these results as "official" and reports them on GIPSA certificates.