Gazette opinion: Daines’ idea ensures Montana grain exports

Montana grain growers have an important new assurance that they can get their product to market, thanks to the Agricultural Reauthorization Act signed by President Barack Obama on Oct. 1.

Included in the legislation is a provision requiring the USDA to continue grain export inspection if state inspectors are not on the job. Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., championed this change in the Grain Standards Reauthorization Act to keep grain moving to export. The Senate bill was introduced by Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan.

As previously reported by The Gazette, grain inspectors employed by Washington state stopped work 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.

The USDA was already in charge of grain inspections, but the new law 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.

As previously reported by The Gazette, a major Montana grain buyer, EGT, will begin new union contract talks with longshoremen next year. The new law should keep grain flowing in the event that Washington again pulls its grain inspectors, Lochiel Edwards, a Big Sandy farmer and partner in TTMS Group, which does transportation consulting, told The Gazette.

In addition to reauthorizing the Grain Standards Act, the bill reauthorizes the Mandatory Price Reporting Act — which helps ranchers receive fair prices — and the National Forest Foundation Act. The Mandatory Price Reporting Act and the Grain Standards Act authorities would have expired Oct. 1 without congressional action.

“Congress mandates that USDA has an unequivocal obligation to ensure that official grain inspection and weighing services at export elevators are provided in an uninterrupted, reliable and consistent basis,” said National Grain and Feed Association President Randy Gordon and North American Export Grain Association President Gary Martin in a joint statement.

The importance of Northwest wheat exports can’t be overstated. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, in 2013, more than 50 percent of total U.S. wheat crop was exported, with 40 percent of wheat leaving the country through ports in Oregon and Washington.

The U.S. House and Senate worked out differences in their agricultural reauthorization bills before critical programs expired. Montana’s Daines saw that the new law will prevent recurrence of the market disruption Montana wheat producers suffered last year. This is how government is supposed to work all the time.