Billings Gazette: Congress Responds to Grain Shipping Meltdown with New Law

In response to a grain shipment meltdown that bottled up Montana wheat last  summer, Congress passed a law Monday forcing the U.S. Department of Agriculture  to intervene when port grain inspections fail.

House lawmakers approved the Grain Standards Reauthorization Act on Monday.  Tucked away in the bill was an amendment by U.S. Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont.,  requiring the USDA to intervene immediately when port grain inspections stop, as  they did at the United Grain terminal in Washington during union protests in  2014. The Senate last week passed the bill, which now heads to President Barack  Obama.

Grain inspectors employed by Washington state walked off the job for five  weeks in July and August 2014 citing concerns about crossing union picket lines.  Because grain cannot be exported without inspection, orders went unfilled for  more than a month.

The delay occurred just as Montana wheat began arriving at elevators. United  Grain has four Montana facilities, each with a capacity for more than a million  bushels.

Federal law has long put the USDA in charge of grain inspections, but the  bill passed Monday specifies that the USDA will take over to keep grain flowing.  The new law also requires state inspectors to give three days notice before  walking off the job.

Grain inspections haven’t been delayed this year, said Lochiel Edwards, a Big  Sandy farmer and partner in TTMS Group, which does transportation  consulting.

However, another major Montana grain buyer, EGT, will begin new union  contract talks with longshoremen next year. The bill passed Monday should keep  grain flowing in the event that Washington again pulls its grain inspectors,  Edwards said.